The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen is one of the most interesting and exciting books that I have read in years. I have read it twice, and even after a second reading, I am impressed and thrilled by the well-developed characters and the clever story.
If you were/are a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, then I would highly recommend giving Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series a read. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first in the collection, and the author begins the book in a most unusual way. In the introduction, King claims that a trunk (anonymously sent, of course) containing a series of manuscripts by an unknown writer arrived on her doorstep one day. The manuscripts, the reader later learns, are the tales of Mary Russell the FEMALE protégé of a retired Sherlock Holmes.
Mary Russell is a wealthy, young woman of 15, who has arrived in Sussex to live with her aunt after the death of her entire family in an automobile accident. In her first few weeks there, she becomes acquainted with the notorious and much admired detective, Sherlock Holmes. The reader quickly learns that Mary Russell, or Russell as her mentor calls her, has a mind as sharp and discerning as Holmes. Holmes grooms her over the next few years, and she comes into womanhood as his partner and right-hand.
I was intrigued, foremost, by King’s development of these characters. Holmes through the eyes of Mary Russell is incredibly similar to Dr. Watson’s creation, yet there is a distinct lack of hero worship that one might expect. Russell’s gaze is direct and realistic, and so is King’s portrayal of the aloof, sarcastic and supremely flawed Sherlock Holmes. As well, Russell, a young woman the intellectual match of Holmes, is afforded the opportunity to be a foolish teenager with weaknesses and vices.
Several of the original characters from the original series appear in the text, including Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes and of course, Dr. Watson. While none of them make an exceptionally long appearance within the novel, they are all cleverly crafted. Similar to Doyle’s depiction, yet allowed the opportunity to bloom under this new telling, they are just as fascinating and interesting as the two protagonists.
Though this novel is extremely character driven, King does not skimp on the plot. The storyline follows the pair’s initial meeting, her initiation into the art of sleuthing, and their eventual immersion in several cases that strengthen and test their partnership. The latter part is by far the most engaging. King creates complex, suspenseful moments by allowing the reader to discover elements of the mystery at an agonizing pace. While this might serve to frustrate readers of other mystery novels, for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, it is the perfect method. As always, we the reader and those working with Russell and Holmes (primarily Scotland Yard) are a step behind the two character’s ability to recognize that the perpetrator gender, height, occupation, station in life, and favorite tobacco!
King is an expert in breathing new life into an old story. I think this book could easily appeal to fans of the older Sherlock Holmes series, and the introduction of Mary Russell may draw in new fans. Women who may have found that they had little in common with the Holmes, the curmudgeon, might find Russell’s straightforward and emotionally charged telling of their cases appealing. I certainly did. And the concluding chapters of the book provide more than enough motivation to pick up the next novel in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women.
Without a doubt Sherlock Holmes is one of the people I greatly admire, nevermind that he’s a fictional creation, and so reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King is a sort of wish fulfillment, where I can take some joy from someone else’s good luck at meeting the Great Detective. Because let’s face it, in his presence I would cut a pretty poor figure and so it is altogether more rewarding to read of the very bright fifteen year old Mary Russell meeting Holmes than … more
I have to confess that I was really reluctant to read this book. I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (of the originals), and I was extremely skeptical about the abilities of another author taking on the great detective. But I was really wrong. Laurie R. King handled Sherlock with white-gloves; he is completely believable as the same eccentric sleuth we all know and love. I was intrigued by the relationship between Mary and Holmes; for what girl doesn't imagine herself as his sidekick? =) IOr … more
A brilliant new vision of an older Sherlock Holmes, who finds his equal in a young woman who captures his heart as well as his mind. Magnificent storytelling, a true credit to the Holmesian pantheon. Subsequent books vary, but are ultimately worth every single page. Superior series.
The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen is the first novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery series by Laurie R. King. Originally published in 1994, this novel has seen multiple editions and has been nominated for an Agatha Award (Best Novel).