Mary Russell, also known as The Beekeeper's Apprentice, proves to be a wonderful addition to the Sherlock Holmes mythos!
When 15-year-old Mary Russell almost tripped over the peculiar man while he was obsessively studying his bees, she never imagined such an accidental (and clumsy) encounter would change her life forever! But as it turns out, that man was semi-retired detective Sherlock Holmes, and when the precocious Mary is able to match wits with him (both with her deductive reasoning and her acerbic wit), a friendship begins to bloom. After training with Holmes for the next few years, Mary proves to be a valuable enough student that Holmes lets her begin to work with him on cases. However, when Mary's contributions manage to thwart the machinations of a rising figure in the criminal underworld, Mary earns a new admirer! An admirer who understands exactly how much of a threat Mary can be. And now this unseen adversary wants to make sure that Mary's next case is also her last...
I shan't tell a lie, I went into this book with some apprehension...it always makes me nervous when an author incorporates a classical character into their own books. As it turns out, my fears were for naught! Laurie King does such a masterful job writing about Sherlock Holmes and his new apprentice, that I often found myself checking the cover to make absolutely sure it wasn't really written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!
The book begins with an editor's note from Laurie King, informing us that the following story was not written by her at all, but rather was pieced together from documents written by an "M.R.H."
. Laurie claims to have stumbled upon these writings in a mysterious package and has no idea if the events are partially or even at all true! Some might see this is a cop-out, but upon reading the book, I felt that King's rather odd claim worked beautifully with the story. There are times that Mary seems just a little too
good at everything...she can deduce, she can fight, she can drive, she can juggle...she can do just about anything that doesn't require her to have come from the planet Krypton! But by giving us this disclaimer, the reader can now choose to believe that if Mary seems just a little too perfect, it may be simply be because she's embellishing things slightly (not too hard to believe, considering that Mary often comes across as arrogant, even in her "own" writings). Perhaps this truly was a cop-out by Laurie King, but I still felt it managed to enhance the story rather than detract from it.
While there are a few characters that come and go, the story is definitely all about Mary & Sherlock. One thing that really amazed me about Mary was how she managed to be both amazing and flawed! Yes, she's brilliant, she's courageous...but she's also snippy at times and snobby pretty much always! Mary is very effectively portrayed as some who's just a little too smart for her own good, someone who knows so much about the world but still manages to feel like an outsider in it. By developing such a multi-faceted character, the author successfully gives Holmes a perfect companion, someone who shares many of his own talents and quirks. Another thing I really enjoyed was how the relationship between Mary and Holmes progressed. Rather than just throw Mary immediately into the action, King chooses to have Mary work on a couple of much smaller cases first. Once Mary proves her mettle, Holmes allows her to join him in his investigation of the kidnapping of an American senator's daughter. Throughout that case, Mary again demonstrates what a valuable asset she is to Holmes. One of my biggest turn-offs in novels is when a relationship develops just a little too quickly (not a fan of the "insta-love"
plot device, as many of my past reviews will collaborate). So imagine my delight when I found that Russell's partnership with Holmes was paced so effectively! It really did feel like I was watching a student grow as a detective throughout the novel, rather than watching a character get thrust into the spotlight just a little too quickly!
As for the story itself, I felt Laurie King knocked it out of the park! The mysteries are enthralling, and the dialogue is full of wit. The set-ups of all the various cases are quite clever, and the way Holmes and Russell solve them, even more so. In addition, there is a lot in here that will please just about any Sherlock Holmes fan. The book almost plays like a "greatest hits" version of the original Holmes mysteries, with Holmes (and now Russell) often donning disguises, cracking codes and analyzing clues just like in Doyle's mysteries. Also, many significant characters in the Sherlock Holmes mythos are referenced. Some actually make an appearance, and others are merely mentioned, but it's more than enough to prove Laurie King didn't just slap Holmes in her book to make it sell better. King truly has an intimate knowledge of Doyle's work. And I must confess, all the nods to the earlier Holmes stories made this Baker Street Irregular smile on many an occasion.
King even does a masterful job with her prose. When Holmes and Russell make an unexpected side-trip to Palestine late in the novel, I feared that King was about to make a huge misstep and was throwing this in merely to prolong the mystery. But as it turned out, this act contained one of the most poignant moments between Holmes and Russell, involving a revelation the two sleuths come to after a particularly aggressive game of chess. Also, King's descriptions of the surroundings are quite poetic at times and lends an additional layer of beauty to everything. Remarkably, King pulls this off while writing this all from the egotistical Mary's point-of-view! There are times when the narrator seems almost cruel to the people she interact with (particularly Dr. Watson, whom Mary seems to view as a rival who needs to be cut-down by her). But even in these moments, King pulls off a tremendous balancing act, where it comes off not as if King herself is disrespecting Watson, but rather Mary's own insecurities that are seeping through in her rather harsh observations.
A magical continuation of the Sherlock Holmes legend! If you've ever read a Sherlock Holmes book...or have even considered
reading a Holmes book, you owe it to yourself to investigate this delightful mystery!Mary Russell says, "I don't know why Mr. Green keeps saying I'm egotistical, that's simply not true! Now if you'll excuse me, I must continue reading my own book and admiring how awesome I am!!!"