“I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.”
So opens The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first novel in an engaging series by Laurie R. King. It features narrator Mary Russell, who on a ramble as a teenager in the countryside of southern England literally stumbles across the older, semi-retired figure of the indubitable Sherlock Holmes. Russell herself is in possession of a very formidable mind, and finds in Holmes not only a mentor, but a best friend and eventually a partner. And they are partners in truth – the best part of this series is that Russell isn’t some prodigy who runs Holmes into the dust, nor is she secondary to his intelligence. They are equals, and despite their difference in ages, their relationship is based on mutual respect and trust.
In the course of the four years spanned by The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Holmes and Russell dabble in a few smaller cases out in the country – a potentially traitorous husband, a kidnapped Senator’s daughter – before an attack on the pair themselves sends them after a mastermind whose like hasn’t been seen since Moriarty plummeted over the falls. The England they pace is peopled with old friends from Conan Doyle’s original series – Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, Lestrade, the Baker Street Irregulars, and of course, Watson. But it is also interrupted by WWII, and there is always a feeling of something or someone lurking in the darkness around the corner, waiting for you to relax. This isn’t a rehashing of the original stories, but rather a re-imagining of just what would have happened had Conan Doyle kept writing.
This book is definitely aimed at older readers – high school at least- as Russell and Holmes both operate at a supremely high level of intellect. But by no means is this an impossible book! King’s writing is fast-paced an engaging, and Russell is great fun to ride along with. Listening to her work through crime scene clues or Holmes’ mind-games lets you feel like you’ve got it yourself, without also feeling led. The banter between the two sleuths is snappy and often humorous – and Holmes remains firmly in-character, just as Conan Doyle wrote him. King has obviously done her research, and done it well. Every word fits just in line with not only the Holmes of popular perception, but of the original detective from A Study in Scarlet. Highly recommended for a good romp with an old favorite!