Thursday, May 8, 2014

REVIEW: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Mary Russell, #1)The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 1994
Genre(s): Historical Mystery
Series: Mary Russell 1
Awards: Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel, 1994
Format: In Print
Narrated By: NA

Imagine for just a moment what it might be like being taken under the wing by Sherlock Holmes. Not just in an abstract fangirl/boy sort of way but truly. Holmes isn’t the easiest or most conventional of men. Most people would be crushed by his intellect and constantly baffled by his behavior. Watson survived by being impervious to insult and completely comfortable with himself.  But who would be the perfect mentee for Holmes? Laurie R. King undertook the task to try and imagine this person. Who might they be and what would she be like? Because of course it’s a she. I don’t know why it had to be a she but it did. And King hits the nail right on the head.

This wasn’t at all how I thought this book would be. Quite frankly I thought it was going to be silly but fun. Mary Russell was going to be a spunky serving girl who could stand up to Holmes. A younger version of Mrs. Hudson if you will. But that is not at all what the author had in mind and even though I was prepared for fun and goofy, I’m glad that's not what I got.

Mary Russell is a newly orphaned teenager who is a little too smart for her own good. One day she stumbles over a fifty-something year old Sherlock Holmes sitting on the moors watching bees. He's retired and they are neighbors and while she knows who he is, she covers up her embarrassment and interest by being snitty. Nevertheless, Holmes picks up on her remarkable intelligence and invites her over for tea. Thus begins a friendship which helps Mary escape from her cruel Aunt and gives Holmes a worthy pupil in which to instill his arts.

The first third to half of the book is kind of jumbled in time and sparse in detail. It covers the roughly 4 year period between when the two meet and Mary goes off to Oxford. It’s perfect because the conceit is that the book is Mary's journal and it really feels like it in this first section. It’s not boring or confusing though. A couple of smaller, local mysteries are solved and a real sense is given of how Mary and Holmes’ relationship develops. It is with the beginning of their partnership to solve the first big mystery, the kidnapping of an American ambassador’s daughter, that the meat of the story begins. It leads to an even bigger case where they are the targets and they must go to great lengths to stop their enemy.

On the one hand this book is about some intriguing Holmesian mysteries being solved but it is also a very personal story of two people who find one another at a crucial and low point in their lives. They save each other. That may sound overly sentimental and maudlin but it doesn't come across that way at all. Spelled out as it is in the form of Mary’s journals, it just becomes apparent, in between experiments on bees, tests of the intellect and pretending to be people they are not. It’s one of the better mysteries I’ve read in a while because it doesn’t put all of its eggs into the plot basket. Even if the mysteries were gone it would still be a good story about two unusual friends.

I should definitely mention that I read this book all in one day. It never lost my interest, it never got boring. Very excited that there is a big long series to dig into!

Final Verdict: It’s been a coon’s age since I read a mystery this good.

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