The year is 1915. Mary Russell, a brilliant and feisty young woman, takes a walk on the Sussex Downs and bumps into Sherlock Holmes, the great consulting detective. The Holmes of 1915 is older, semi-retired, and amazed at Mary Russell’s powers of deduction. The two strike up a friendship, Holmes mentors his new pupil, and they work together to solve an intriguing mystery.
And there you have it, a summary of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. Before I jump into my review, however, here’s a little background:
I love Sherlock Holmes. I went through a spell in college where I read all of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories in about two weeks. I would sit in the halls of the Haley Center and wait for my classes to start with my two-volume Bantam Classics paperback, reading away. This was back in 2010; I remember because I was reading a Sherlock Holmes story one morning when Cam Newton walked by me on the way to one of his classes.
Anyways, back to Sherlock Holmes. When I read the synopsis online, I really expected this to be a Sherlock Holmes spin-off that focuses on his skills as a detective. I quickly found out that The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is not a Sherlock Holmes story, but he is a major character in the book. King is very clear that she did not set out to write more Sherlock Holmes books, she set out to write Mary Russell stories.
One thing I really liked about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the structure. It’s framed as a memoir, and King does really creative things with the Sherlock Holmes legacy. In the world of this book, Holmes and Watson are real people, not characters. We find out that Watson, Holmes’ biographer, told his literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle all about Holmes’ real life adventures. Doyle then publishes the accounts, and, much to Holmes’ dismay, sensationalizes some of the facts.
My one complaint is that the story takes a long time to develop. King spends about 100 pages establishing Russell and Holmes’ relationship, and while (like any good mystery) all of those details do return in major ways, it felt like the story was a little slow to get off the ground. When I think Holmes, I think of episodic mysteries that are set up and solved in a short amount of time. This was a full-fledged novel, so there was a lot of extra information piled in that sometimes made me want to skim through and “get to the good stuff.” By about page 190, however, I was hooked by the details, the characters, and the suspense.
This book is actually the first in a series of fourteen Mary Russell novels, and during the slower parts, I remember thinking “There’s no way I’ll read the rest of these books.” That being said, as soon as I closed the novel last night, I wanted to drive to the closest book store and buy the second one. Right now my to-read list is pretty out of control, so I’m pressing pause on Mary Russell, but if you’re in the market for a beach read that’s not complete fluff, I’d definitely recommend this one.