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The Language of Bees: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Paperback – Apr 27 2010
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"A one-woman case for the defense of unauthorized literary sequels...intelligent, witty, complex and atmospheric...By making a woman possible who matches Holmes in brainpower, as well as in depressive tendencies of mind and spare elegance of manner, King has made marriage possible for the most famous and, surely, one of the most aloof detectives of all time....A spellbinding mystery...superb." —The Washington Post Book World on Justice Hall
"A wonderful blend of sheer wit and canny ratiocination, this is mystery at its most ingenious."—The Guardian on The Art of Detection
"Mesmerizing...King does a wonderful job of probing the human psyche...All of her novels are superb."—Daily American on Locked Rooms
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, the Stuyvesant & Grey novels Touchstone and The Bones of Paris, and the acclaimed A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. She lives in Northern California.See all Product Description
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On the other hand, after slogging through this overly long and drawn out tale, it was a definite downer to come in for a landing at page 442, only to find:
"to be continued..."
Alas, I don't think I'm going to be up for yet another several hundred pages about the case of the religious nutcase. As villains go, he's just not all that interesting or, to my mind, sequel-worthy.
Some years ago, not long after she changed publishers, I heard Laurie King tell a book fair audience that Bantam was pushing her to up her page counts. And she's certainly done that. It seems to me her novels are getting more and more bogged down in beautifully written, but frequently irrelevant, detail and description that disrupts the pace and doesn't advance the plot. Weary of what reads to me as padding, (the plot here doesn't begin to kick in till page 159), I'm thinking that maybe, instead of ordering her next book at the first announcement of a pub date, as I've always done before, I'll just hang back and wait to see what the page count and reviews here tell me. Meantime I think I'll revisit some of the old 300-pagers like "Beekeeper's Apprentice" and "The Moor" that once made me such a huge Mary Russell/Laurie King fan.
ADDENDA MARCH 1, 2010: Great news, King fans!!! I've just had an opportunity to read and review an advance copy of what comes after the "to be continued" that made so many of us here so angry. It's called "God of the Hive" and it's just terrific: edge-of-your-seat suspense from page 1, nearly 100 pages shorter than this one, but three times as much plot, a new and more villainous villain, no padding whatsoever, Russell's at her best, Holmes is more Holmesian. Definitely one of King's best and definitely NOT the end of the line for this reader after all.
I'm almost surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I'm not a Holmes purist, but even to me, this seemed like a risky gambit -- it has so much potential to change his character ... but I should not have been worried. What King accomplishes makes the character of Sherlock Holmes more richly complex, and in the course of doing so, provides a chilling mystery, of a different sort than has been featured in the earlier volumes of the series.
If I'm vague, it's only that I'm trying to avoid spoilers. In this volume, readers are treated to more Mycroft (a treat!), Russell solving a different sort of mystery than usual, and a case involving an Aleister Crowleyesque cult. I felt as though there was a more meditative cast to parts of the book, which is to say that readers see Russell musing over human error, and forgiveness, and the ability to move past human error, and loneliness, a little more than in earlier entries of the series. But the book isn't dominated by these musings -- they are skillfully woven into the action.
I was satisfied by the ending, despite the fact that the last words are "to be continued...". Sometimes novels that end with cliffhangers feel like half-books that were only published accidentally. _The Language of Bees_ is unquestionably a whole book, and one that I will no doubt read again, while waiting for the sequel. I only wish I knew when the sequel was due to be published!
Bee-keeping, standing stones, Aleister Crowley, French painters, an eclipse, and Holmes' son ~ how could this add up to anything other than the Philosopher's Stone?
Dunno, folks, but it didn't achieve critical mass.
I found very interesting the remarks of another reviewer who said that King's publisher was pushing for a higher page count. Well, if that's true, I don't see why it should obviate the possibility of an even better book. Look at the first in this series, The Bee-Keeper's Apprentice. It had the action and resolutions of several novels packed into one cover: fabulous. In many ways, the book is its mirror image: few plots, none resolved. "To be continued" is a total cheat. Unlike the 19th-century novels that came out in serial form, this wait will be not weeks, but years. And I don't think anyone is going to go down to the docks, al la The Old Curiosity Shop, for the next installment of this story.
For me, introducing the references to Crowley without following through was close to criminal. Crowley doesn't have the public profile of Holmes, but he was a fascinating/horrifying figure of the time - surely the most shaming-making alum that Trinity/Cambridge has. His various witchy works are the subtext for the group Russell and Holmes investigate, but King doesn't give us her version of the man. Other than Sylvia or Cristobel Pankhrust, I can't think of anyone I'd rather see King turn into a character.
As in the Monsterous Regiment, we get some London life and sub-cultures, although not nearly enough for me. The best thing about the novel - other than the idyllic time Russell spends alone in Sussex - is the presence of Mycroft, who comes close to being a fully developed character. Russell's time in the airplane is wonderfully rendered, but the tension it builds for the climax is cruelly betrayed.
To call the end of the book an anticlimax would be kind. I'm not feeling very kind at the moment, so I'll call it a cheap marketing ploy, the sort of thing to which I didn't think Laurie R King would sink.
At the beginning of Locked Rooms, Russell drops a tantalizing clue about a case involving the Emperor of Japan, and I hoped it would be next in the series. Now it looks like I'll have to suffer through part 2 of The Language of Bees before there's a chance of a Japanese adventure.
If you're already into the series, I know you'll read this book, just as I will continue to read anything King writes in the Russell/Holmes saga. If you have not read any of the books, the best advice I can give you is do not start with this book. Instead read The Beekeeper's Apprentice, The Moor, Oh Jerusalem!, or The Game. Those books are simply amazing. This book, not so much.