Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell or The (first half of) Beekeeper’s Apprentice

I’m exactly at the half-way mark of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and there are a great many thoughts crowding my mind!

First off, I haven’t read any of the original Holmes so will not be able to comment on how Ms King’s efforts compare to the original. However, Ms King has mentioned that these are Mary Russell stories more than Sherlock Holmes stories so I doubt the series is a pastiche.

The first half of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice deals with the development of Mary Russell from a young girl to a young woman and with the development of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell which evolves from mentor-protégé to one that is more a partnership of equals.

The story begins with a chance encounter between Holmes and Russell where Holmes’ wonderment at Russell’s keen deductive skills, “My God, it can think” is met with “My God, it can recognize another human being when it’s hit over the head with one,” from Russell.

This very first encounter sets the tone for the rest of the story, establishing Mary Russell as an equal of Sherlock Holmes if not in experience then certainly in intelligence. Russell is gawky with a hawk-like eye for details. She’s unapologetic about her intelligence and brilliant at deduction. She catches Holmes’ interest fair and square. In Mary Russell, Ms King creates a heroine who to quote Ms King herself, “I wish I had when I was twelve or fourteen.”

My only knowledge of Sherlock Holmes comes from Benedict Cumberbatch who portrays the great detective in BBC One’s excellent Sherlock. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is a somewhat cold-blooded man in pursuit of a single-minded goal as he goes about solving each case. Ms King’s Sherlock is one in retirement, a man in his mid-fifties who has given up active sleuthing. Perhaps because of his age, perhaps because he finally meets a mind that can more than hold its own with him (in their very first encounter there’s a scene where Holmes murmurs, “Twenty years ago… Even ten. But here? Now?” A later scene helps us understand the cryptic utterance – Holmes was marveling at fate’s irony in sending him a mind that he could train only once he’s in retirement), Ms King’s Holmes is not a complete misanthrope. There is a streak of humanity in him that gives the reader a pause and look at him with a sort of affection.

Reading the first half of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice one could very well wonder at the absence of mystery in the very first book of a purportedly ‘mystery series’. Certainly, prima facie The Beekeeper’s Apprentice does not seem to belong to the canons of the mystery genre. However, in my opinion Ms King seems to be laying the groundwork for the mysteries to come by giving the reader the front row seat to the growth and development of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ relationship with her. Ms King starts her series with the character development of two protagonists who hook the reader’s interest right from the start and makes one want to see them through to the end of their story.

Indeed ‘the game’s afoot’ earnestly as the second half begins, with a grave and perilous threat looming over Holmes’ and Russell’s head:

I can hardly call the adventure that began at the end of that term a ‘case,’ for the only clients were ourselves, the only possible payment our lives. It burst upon us like a storm, it beat us and flung us about and threatened our lives, our sanity, and the surprisingly fragile thing that existed between Holmes and myself.

I don’t know what malady is slowly approaching but the foreboding in those words has ensured that I’m at the edge of my seat.

P.S. I wanted to talk about Ms. King’s absolute and utter gift with descriptions but my itch to return to the story means that it will have to wait for the review that’ll come at the end of the book!

In which I fall in love with Laurie R. King (of The Mary Russell Mysteries fame)

I had heard of but never read the Mary Russell mysteries. And then I came across Laurie R. King, the author of the Mary Rusell mysteries’ website. As I always do, I clicked on the page that said ‘Bio’ and stumbled upon:

Her Autobiography

I am a writer, because I love and have been nurtured by books.

and

One of the great pleasures in being the sort of writer I am, in having published The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is looking up during a signing and seeing myself in the back row. The book, which begins with the heroine fifteen years old yet easily capable of meeting the great Sherlock Holmes as an equal, is the story I wish I had when I was twelve or fourteen. Fantasy, affirmation, a hint of romance, a dash of adventure: along with those shy girls in the back row, I am Mary Russell. Or I was at that age, in my mind.

and

But what do a much-uprooted childhood, a love of theology, travel to distant places, and the establishment of three homes have to do with the Laurie R. King entry in Contemporary Authors? If my husband had not been so near to retirement age, I might well have gone on into doctoral studies, become a Biblical scholar, and had a far different entry. Or if back in high school my math teachers had been more encouraging, my other secret passion might have taken root, leading me into architecture, in which case a Laurie King biography would have been found in another series entirely. Or if life had tugged just slightly harder in another direction, I might have pursued the mysteries of birth, and plunged into the joyous obscurity of a midwife, known only to those whose babies she had caught.

Instead, in September of 1987, when my daughter was in her second grade classroom and my son off to his preschool three mornings a week, I sat down with the Waterman fountain pen I had bought on the Oxford high street the summer before and wrote on a canary pad the words, “I was fifteen when I met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.”

And like that, I was a writer.

I think I am about to fall in love.