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Mary Judith Russell Holmes is a detective and theologian. She starts out in the first book as a 15-year-old orphan, literally stumbling over Sherlock Holmes while hiking in Sussex. Over the course of several years she becomes his apprentice, colleague, confidante, and finally his wife.

Russell was born in England, but spent much of her life in northern California. Her father was a Boston Brahmin, but made San Francisco his home, as he felt California had the potential for tremendous growth (and profit). Her mother was a British daughter of a rabbi. As a consequence, the family divided their time between Sussex and California. As a six-year-old, Russell survived the 1906 earthquake with only fleeting memories of the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire. And as a 14-year-old, she survives the family car plunging off of a cliff near San Francisco (likely at Devil's Slide, in San Mateo County), while her parents and younger brother are killed in the accident.

After recovering from her injuries, she goes to live in a house that she actually owns in Sussex, but is under the care of her aunt, who (along with her cousin) is abusive towards her. As an escape, she takes to reading while taking long hikes in the countryside, and it was while she was engrossed in a book that she literally trips over Sherlock Holmes, who has been studying the patterns of bees in some bushes.

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