Reviewed by Kristin
When I think of Sherlock Holmes, I picture a pipe-smoking figure in a deerstalker hat with a magnifying glass, haughtily spouting his deductions about the ne’er-do-wells skulking about in the shadows. This image has become part of pop culture, even spreading to younger generations as the modern BBC version of Sherlock has become a popular television show. Beyond the original Arthur Conan Doyle books, (as most of the original stories and characters are no longer protected under copyright) many authors have taken a shot at creating their own Sherlock Holmes stories.
Laurie R. King started just such a venture in 1994 with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, featuring Mary Russell, a fifteen year old American girl new to the Sussex countryside who almost literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes as she rambles across the land with her nose in a Latin text. They are an unlikely pair: an orphaned young girl with a most unpleasant guardian aunt, and a semi-retired, aging private detective whose main pursuit is beekeeping. However, Mary’s quick mind intrigues Holmes and they soon become—if not friends—companions who challenge each other.
While there is a plot, a villain, and a dénouement, it is the flavor of the book that carried me along. Mary (always “Russell” to Holmes) is a serious young lady with tragedy in her past. Having lost her immediate family in an automobile accident in California, Mary returns to her family lands in England. With her youth she brings a breath of fresh air to Holmes, his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, and even Dr. Watson, who quickly becomes “Uncle John.”
Holmes’ gentler human side is portrayed in this story, more than just the self-important detective who proclaims his logical conclusions arrived at through brilliant deductive reasoning. Mary seems wise beyond her years, but maintains an innocence befitting a young girl in the years during and after the Great War. Mary is not just another version of Watson to reflect the brilliance of Holmes, but has a sharp mind of her own. With her quick understanding and ability to reason, Mary becomes more of a partner than an apprentice, even at such a young age.
Adding to the written word, I have enjoyed the British accents on the audiobook version borrowed through R.E.A.D.S. The pronunciation alone is entertaining—think of such words as “constabulary” and “advertisement” or even “ate” (pronounced “et”).
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is only the beginning, and I am already looking forward to the rest of the books in the series. Fans of the original Arthur Conan Doyle books should appreciate this addition to the Sherlock canon.