on March 20, 2008
I was grabbed from the first line of the introduction. King writes the way she speaks, I imagine, and I could hear a cool, authoritative, strong-willed voice through the whole, wonderful book. The plot was engaging and clever, and her mastery of Holmes's character was complete. I wasn't two pages into the thing before I ordered all the other titles Amazon had on offer. Now I have to wait until she joins Russell and Holmes again: cue heavy sigh. As an academic who generally limits her reading to works on cultural history, I found this a light, funny, delicately romantic read and I take delight in recommending it.
on August 15, 2009
The year is 1915 and Sherlock Holmes is retired, but a young lady of fifteen years falls into his life and she becomes his protégé. Mary Russell is orphaned and lives with an aunt who is only interested in Mary's inheritance and does not offer Mary any loving guidance. Sherlock Holmes takes the job of teaching Mary all the skills he has learned in his detective work. Mary Russell exhibits an impressive intelligence and is able to absorb what Sherlock teaches her.
As she attends school at Oxford Mary spends her holidays with Holmes and they become involved in detective work together. Mary rescues a young girl from kidnappers and is able to help the young girl deal emotionally with her lose of innocence. Mary is able to relate to the girl's emotional turmoil through her own experience of losing her parents and brother in a car accident.
In the crimes that Holmes and Mary solve there is a common menace. A criminal master mind has been stalking Holmes and the ones he loves and all of their lives are at risk. Mary and Sherlock Holmes have to combine their great minds to figure out who this criminal mastermind is.
"The Beekeeper's Apprentice" by Laurie R. King is the first book in a series a books with Mary Russell being a detective. In this first book she learns the basics of detective work along the side of the great Sherlock Holmes himself.
There are a few things I found hard to deal with in this book. The first thing was the treatment of Dr Watson, he is treated like a baboon and there is a general feeling that Holmes wants nothing to do with Watson now that he has Mary to work with. I think it would have made more sense if Watson was embraced and still loved, rather then shunned and ridiculed. He plays a very small role so why debase him?
Another weakness with mystery novels is that so many words are spent on developing the scene of the crime and the detective work and as a result there are fewer words left for developing the characters. One thing I love about reading is falling in love with the characters and having them become my new best friends and it just does not fully develop into that type of relationship in this book, there are a few times it comes close, for example when Mary and Sherlock are in Palestine I truly feel Mary's love for who she is and how she lost her family, I loved that section, but overall they did not become fast friends with me.
This is a female power book; Mary is a great example of a female with a great intellect and of someone who gets the job done right. "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" is an excellent read for young adult female readers who are looking for strong female characters.
on January 30, 2004
After the death of her family, Mary Russell, a fifteen year-old, moves to a farm with her "evil" aunt. In one of her walks around the area she meets the famous Sherlock Holmes, who is retired and dedicates his hours to the study of bees. Right from the start the two main characters in the book match their wits and Holmes is surprised by the potential he sees in this young woman. He then decides to tutor her and introduce her to the art of investigative work. In the next few years, they go through a few cases and Mary goes away to Oxford to continue her studies; but at one point they are faced with a more dangerous opponent, who wants to kill not only Holmes, but also Mary; even Dr. Watson and Mycroft are in danger. If you want to know the rest, you better read the book!
In my opinion the author does a very good job in maintaining the particular characteristics that define the characters in Arthur Conan Doyle's books, especially in the case of Sherlock Holmes. It is amazing how you feel that the deductive work is done by exactly the same detective you knew from the past, and with the added benefit of a fresh mind assisting him!
I was very pleased to see the ingenious way in which Laurie King connected this new series with the Conan Doyle's work. She concocted a story about her receiving the manuscripts of the different stories in the series some time ago, and that she is merely the editor. The manuscripts were of course written by the enchanting Mary Russell.
Finally, let me tell you that, since I am an avid chess player, I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which Holmes uses a chess game with Mary to explain the strategy he was planning to utilize in one of their cases.
I will definitely continue reading the books in this series, and if you haven't started yet, I recommend you do it now!
on June 12, 2003
OK. If you like Sherlock Holmes, you may hate this book. I found the original Holmes a little tedious, to be honest, too much of a know-it-all, too much of a brain without a personlaity. Laurie King makes the man come alive, rounds him out, gives him a heart as well as a brain, and pairs him up with a partner forty years his junior, half-American, and female to boot. The combination is electric.
I couldn't put this book down, which is odd, considering that it's by no means perfect. It has no plot to speak of (unless you consider the deepening complexity of the relationship between Holmes and Russell a plot, which I did). Rather, the story is episodic, with a couple of loose threads pulling it all together. It spans five years, from 1915 to 1920, and there are at least three mysteries, if not four, that the couple solve. The narrative voice is strong, and Russell's character is fully developed, but at times there are annoying lapses of tone, vocabulary or diction - Russell will write things that no young woman of her background and upbringing in 1915 would write.
What makes this book, and what made me not only read it as slowly as I could, not wanting to finish it and have to put it down, is the characterization of the lead couple. In addition, it's as much an adventure story as it is a mystery, rife with wonderful disguises, romps across countrysides, travel halfway around the world and back, prisoners, bombs, chloroform and car accidents, little dogs and big dogs, diabolical murderers and petty theives. It reminded me of Tintin - and as with Tintin, I didn't believe a word of it, and was hooked.
I loved this book, despite the fact that when it was over I couldn't really say what happened (other than the fact that Holmes meet Russell and taught her how to be an amateur sleuth), and despite the fact that every now and then Russell would say something infuriatingly late twentieth-century and I'd cringe. I'm recommending this to all my mystery-loving friends.
on June 4, 2003
Sherlock Holmes is certainly not dead, nor inactive in any way. Quite on the contrary, he's busy with hives of bees, a nagging Mrs. Hudson (for his own good, mind), and did I happen to mention a young feminist protogee and a stalker out to torture the mind before killing?
Anyone who loves Holmes but not particularly the rather more stale and oh-so stuffly worded Victorian works of Doyle, this is a refreshing and relieving story of mystery, suspense, and the human mind. I read this book when I was 13 years old and fell in love with the series. I've passed the book on to over twenty people, including two English professors and a multitude of my friends' parents. You have to love the sparkle of Russell's sharp and pointed personality, a good and sound board for Holmes' own edgy self. If that can't convince you to read the book, I don't know any other way!
Enjoy, and remember to start it over the weekend; I stayed up until 4 in the morning on a Wednesday night to finish it in one night!
on February 11, 2003
Laurie King is not your average mystery author. Not only does she spin a carefully-crafted plot, she develops delicious characters and relationships, and does it all with a delightful sense of humor, page-turning momentum, and literary grace. In short: a rare combination of real writing talent, and great fun!
This book is the perfect kick-off. Once you read it, you're hooked! Her other books in the series are just as good; although there's something about the 15 year-old Mary Russel that has drawn me back to this particular book more than once. I especially love her first encounter with Holmes!
WARNING: I've seen NUMEROUS reviews, and even comments on the back cover of her books, that spoil a major plot point in the second book of the series! I recommend not indulging in any more reviews, or even reading small quotes about the series, if you can help it...just buy it, and read it. Trust me, the payoff is worth it! You'll thank me when you relish the last few pages of her second book--which may very well be the most satisfying ending of any book I've read, and one of the best surprises.
on January 25, 2003
This is one of the best of the new genre of books to chronicle a woman as being on a par with Sherlock Holmes as a detective. This one does not make Holmes into an inferior curmudgeon as some of the others do. The young woman is rather shown to be of the same level of intellect and observation powers as Holmes.
While walking along in the countryside, reading a book, 15 year old Mary Russell almost steps on Sherlock Holmes, who has retired to the country and become a bee keeper. Holmes is impressed by her intellect, wit and powers of observation. He invites her for tea and from there they progress to the status of teacher and pupil. Holmes tutors her in all his detective skills and she learns very well. They collaborate in solving several crimes and eventually come to grips with a master criminal. The way they combine to solve and fight crimes is entertaining. The character of Mary Russell is well done and Holmes is reasonably like the "real" Holmes. This book is well written and has a nice narrative and plot. I look forward to reading others of the series.
on January 20, 2003
Of all the creations of all fiction writers, Sherlock Holmes holds a special place in the hearts of any fans of the whodunit. His sharp mind and ability to deduce the seemingly impossible from such mundane things as the sound of a guest's footsteps have earned him this honoured position. As such, any author or filmmaker who attempts to update or parody him is in a difficult situation (and such updates and parodies have frequently been done).
Laurie King's "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" has fulfilled the expectations both of the whodunit reader and the Holmes fan. The title refers to Holmes' leisure pursuit of beekeeping and the "apprentice" is the 15-year-old half-American girl Mary Russell. Much of the novel features the deductive duels between Holmes and Russell, duels in which the apprentice acquits herself admirably.
King's setting of "Apprentice" as being considerably after Arthur Conan Doyle's stories (roughly the early 20th century) enables her to make some attempts at social commentary. Russell (as Holmes constantly refers to her) is a feminist and demonstrably equal to many of Holmes' tasks, Holmes of course has some trouble in accepting this. Furthermore, the Russell character is given an interesting background progressively during the novel - without giving the plot away, I'll simply say that it explains much about her family arrangement.
The temptation with resurrecting classic literary characters is always that the new author will simply feature the same sort of adventures over again. Rest assured, however, this is far from a rehash of "Hound Of The Baskervilles", "The Blue Carbuncle" or any of Conan Doyle's originals. In fact, Holmes' comments about the inaccuracy of Doyle's work are an unexpected bonus to this novel. That said, the old favourites do put in appearances. Mrs Hudson is still Holmes' housekeeper, Dr Watson still can't quite grasp what Holmes is up to and Mycroft still works at his vaguely-defined government job. There's even an Inspector Lestrade, admittedly the son of the famous one. Even Holmes' most famous nemesis, Professor Moriarty, makes a posthumous appearance - the author of some mathematical problems which Russell encounters.
Overall, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" is a worthy inclusion to the Holmes canon. Nothing of Holmes' acerbic wit has been lost in the transition, and in Russell he has gained a partner considerably more his equal than Watson ever could have been. After the necessary introductions, the novel picks up pace and becomes a veritable page-turner.
The downside is that there is a slight over-reliance on Holmes' earlier work. While it is possible to work out whodunit before the climactic ending, doing so requires both the customary Holmesian thought processes and making the odd educated guess about one or two events.
That said, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" is only the first in a series which currently runs to some 5 or 6 novels. As such, it is a highly recommended read, as it sets up much of the events of the sequel ("A Monstrous Regiment Of Women"). While King's constant "literary conceit" throughout the series of having received these novels in manuscript form from an anonymous donor does get a bit pointless at times, the quality of work in these "anonymous manuscripts" is high enough to forgive her that much.
A highly recommended novel.
on October 10, 2002
At least once or twice every year I find myself in a Holmes state of mind. Basil Rathbone makes numerous appearances on my screen at this time and books--by Conan Doyle as well as others--are strewn across the couch. And even though this has been going on for years, my first experience with Mary Russell and Laurie King's Holmes came only two days ago. A new name has indeed been added to my yearly Holmes phase.
Laurie King's Holmes is subtle. And it is because of that that he is entirely believable, and what's more, remarkably likeable. As another reviewer noted, under King's hand and through Mary Russell's eyes the aging detective is human, almost fallible. Little gestures, small displays of emotion, makes the reader care about him on a personal level that cannot be reached when he is shown only as the master of deduction. King's treatment of this classic fictional figure has added a new element to my devotion. I absolutely cannot wait to read the rest of the series to see how Holmes progresses in this regard.
Russell is a strong protagonist. Admittedly, when I first started the book I had a problem with the fact that she was fifteen years old--the voice didn't seem quite right, or believable. I suppose it's not completely out of the scope of reason that a fifteen year old was/is capable of having a quick, intelligent mind, but one that could compete on a level with Holmes? (One, no less, that had seemingly little challenging education other than the books she constantly had her nose in.) I'm not entirely sure about that. It may just be that she intrigued him with the intelligence she displayed for her age, but that doesn't seem to be the case, at least not totally. I just found it rather curious that King decided to have her meet Holmes at such a young age. However, this was a very little thing in the overall scheme, and it might, in part, be explained away by the fact that she is actually telling the story from an older point-of-view.
The set-up of the novel was wonderful in that the first half stayed true to the short stories of Conan Doyle being presented a case at a time as they were. Each case could have been read on its own, but added to the whole picture that the novel made. The final case is the focus, or the main mystery, and is a satisfying one at that. A good challenge for the budding partnership of Holmes and Russell, but not so much for the reader because once the leading clues are given there's very little to figure out from there.
If the remaining Mary Russell books are of the same quality as 'The Beekeeper's Apprentice' then this series will be a fixture in my personal Holmes library. (As a side note, Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler series pits another strong woman with a brilliant mind against poor Holmes--and she's straight out of Conan Doyle's story 'A Scandal in Bohemia'.)