Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Author: Laurie R. King
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes (Book 1)
Publication: Minotaur Books; Special edition, 20th Anniversary edition edition (April 1, 2010)

Description: What would happen if Sherlock Homles, a perfect man of the Victorian age--pompous, smug, and misogynisitic--were to come face to face with a twentieth-century female? If she grew to be a partner worthy of his great talents?

Laurie R. King, whose very different first novel, A Grave Talent (SMP, 1993), drew rave reviews, read the Conan Doyle stories and wondered about such an imaginary encounter. And following through, she has written The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

1914, a young woman named Mary Russell meets a retired beekeeper on the Sussex Downs. His name is Sherlock Holmes. And although he may have all the Victorian "flaws" listed above, the Great Detective is no fool, and can spot a fellow intellect even in a fifteen-year-old woman.

So, at first informally, then consciously, he takes Mary Russell as his apprentice. They work on a few small local cases, then on a larger and more urgent investigation, which ends successfully. All the time, Mary is developing as a detective in her own right, with the benefit of the knowledge and experience of her mentor and, increasingly, friend.

And then the sky opens on them, and they find themselves the targets of a slippery, murderous, and apparently all-knowing adversary. Together they devise a plan to trap their enemy--a plan that may save their lives but may also kill off their relationship.

This is not a "Sherlock Holmes" story. It is the story of a modern young woman who comes to know and work with Holmes, the story of young woman coming to terms with herself and with this older man who embodies the age that is past.

My Thoughts: This is the first book in a series that began in 1994 and published the most recent entry - the fifteenth - in 2018. It introduces fifteen-year-old Mary Russell who is an orphan, an heiress, and a scholar. The story begins with her almost stepping on Sherlock Holmes when she is out wandering the Sussex countryside and reading Virgil. Holmes is watching bees and trying to track a new swarm for one of his hives.

Ostensibly retired, Holmes fills his time keeping his bees, doing a variety of experiments, and writing about various topics like footprints, tire tracks, cigarette ash, and blood. Their first meeting shows them that, despite their many differences, they share many characteristics too. Their hungry intellects, curiosity and deductive powers lead to a developing friendship.

Holmes takes Russell as his informal apprentice and Russell finds a home that is much warmer than the one provided by her guardian aunt. Gradually, Russell gains the skills Holmes is teaching which go along with her own interests in theology.

The story covers about four years of time with Mary growing from a precocious fifteen-year-old to a more worldly and educated nineteen-year-old who moves from apprenticeship to mastery of the arts of detection. She becomes a full partner and equal in the variety of cases that come to them. From an early case of the kidnapping of a six-year-old senator's daughter to a case with roots in Holmes' past, we can see the growth in their partnership and in Mary's skills.

I really enjoyed this rereading of a book I read more than 20 years ago. I loved the historical detail about a time of great change in Great Britain. I loved the contrast between a 20th Century young woman and a Victorian man. I also loved the way those two very different people had so many similarities. The mystery was engaging and complex. I didn't remember who the villain was and enjoyed watching Mary and Holmes follow the clues to discover her.

Now, I want to go on and read the rest of the series again so that I can watch Mary grow and her relationship with Holmes gain in depth and complexity.

Favorite Quote:
"That's what tears are for, you know, to wash away the fear and cool the hate."
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

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