Book Review #86: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King
The Beekeeper's Apprentice
by Laurie King
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Ages: 13 and up, though an older reader would understand it better and not all of the later books in the series are appropriate for that age.
Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes' pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.
This is my favorite mystery ever. I have loved Sherlock Holmes ever since I watched the old black-and-white Basil Rathbone movies when I was a kid (well, more of a kid anyway), and from there I read the books. I thought it was the coolest thing that when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill Holmes, there was such a protest from fans that he was forced to bring him back. I think Laurie King would have been one of those fans.
In The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the author respects the original story and characters while making them all her own. What if Holmes' adventures were recorded by someone who could act as a full partner to him? Someone who understood his plans as he made them, rather than when they fell into place? That partner is Miss Mary Russell. Clever, young and neglected, she is the one to draw Holmes out of his dull retirement and bring his mind back to life. There are not enough words to describe how much I love the character Mary Russell. She is brilliantly logical with an impressive breadth of knowledge and insatiable curiosity as well as just a touch of youthful naivete. I found her to be realistic and easy to relate to.
Holmes...well, everybody knows the great Sherlock Holmes, but in this book you see a different side of him. Along with the famous detective, you see the man, who is more complicated and intense than ever before. The conversations he has with Russell on a variety of subjects are well thought out and fascinating. His words and actions reveal a tightly controlled passion. You also see his protectiveness of those he loves and his deep fear of making mistakes. This Holmes is more human than the original in the best sense of the word.
I loved the writing and the dialogue, both of which have a wry sense of humor winding through them. Drama and danger walk side by side with domesticity and ordinary life. The plot and mystery are almost secondary to the beautiful writing and intelligent conversations, but not quite. The plot was designed perfectly to fit Holmes and Russell as they evolve from teacher and student to equal partners. The difficulties they face test them on every level, giving the reader an opportunity to truly get to know them. The ending is far less important than how they get there.
This is a must-read for lovers of mystery, Sherlock Holmes and wonderful writing. I have probably read this book 5 times since I first discovered it 4 years ago.