Friday, March 27, 2009

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book) by Laurie R. King

The year is 1915, and Sherlock Holmes rarely does any investigating for the police anymore, preferring instead to conduct experiments in his country home and study honeybee behavior. Fifteen-year-old Mary stumbles upon him one day while on a walk. Ever since the death of her family in a car crash, Mary has lived with her aunt, a horrible and greedy woman - Mary has little to enjoy in her life besides her reading and long walks. Holmes and Mary find their intellectual matches in each other - Mary, like Holmes, can figure out a great deal by combining logic with observation. The two of them become friends, and Holmes takes Mary under his wing, teaching her and honing her mind. As the years go by, Mary eventually goes off to Oxford, but she and Holmes stay close.

Mary takes part in a few smaller investigations before eventually helping Holmes with a more important case, finding and retrieving a kidnapped child. This case ends in a mostly satisfactory way and cements Holmes' and Mary's trust in one another. A while later, Holmes goes to Mary after an unknown enemy of his tries to blow him up. Holmes fears for Mary's life, and it appears that he's right to worry, since he finds a bomb in Mary's room in Oxford as well. Holmes decides it would be best if they all lay low, so they go to Mycroft's. Eventually, events force them to hide even more thoroughly, and they go to Jerusalem for a while (the location is Mary's choice, and their adventures are written about in more detail in King's O Jerusalem).

It is while they are away that Holmes hatches a plan to deal with their enemy once and for all. Their enemy has attacked Mary because of her close relationship with Holmes. Now, Mary must pretend to break all ties of friendship with Holmes and those around her, making it seem as though her relationship with Holmes has become poisonously strained and angry. It's a painful and exhausting game, but it works - the enemy, someone Mary thought she could trust and someone with links to Holmes's past, is drawn closer and out of hiding.

I first read this book in high school. I was talking with a girl in my art class, and we discovered that we both liked to read and had somewhat similar tastes in books. She let me borrow a few of her books and I let her borrow a few of mine. I can't remember what I let her borrow, but I recall wishing that I'd been able to think up better books to give her, since the ones she let me borrow turned out to be so good. The Beekeeper's Apprentice was one of these books (I believe Neuromancer by William Gibson and Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress were the other two). I fell in love with King's Holmes and even read a few of the original Holmes stories, although I never really enjoyed Doyle's Holmes quite as much.

Not much really happens during a good chunk of this book, but I didn't find it to be boring in the least. It was fascinating, reading about the war and early twentieth century life from Mary's perspective. Her relationship with Holmes was enjoyable, and I even liked her simple early cases (the stolen hams, for instance). Holmes and Mary's first truly dangerous case, the kidnapping, doesn't happen until maybe a third of the way through the book. Their next case, the one that strains their relationship to its limits, begins maybe halfway through the book and takes its time to develop. Still, there were times when it had me at the edge of my seat. I truly cared about what happened to Holmes and Mary, and it was painful to read about them hurting each other in order to draw their opponent out of hiding.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, although some may find the story to be too slow-paced. As someone who tends to focus on characters more than story, Mary and Holmes were more than enough for me. I even enjoyed Watson and Mrs. Hudson, despite not having read a single one of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories before reading this for the first time. Fans of the original stories may get even more out of these characters' appearances, although those same fans may not necessarily like the direction the series takes (there are subtle hints, which I noticed the first time I read this book and which I asked my classmate about, that Holmes and Mary will eventually have a romantic relationship - in a later book, they get married).

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - This book contains 12 of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, which should be a nice selection for Holmes newbies and fans alike. However, if you can't find this particular volume, I'm sure you can find some kind of Holmes collection somewhere.
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Being a Reprint of the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. (book) by Nicholas Meyer - This book is written as a "missing" Holmes story that explains some of the things in a few of the original Holmes stories that seem contradictory and fills out areas that Doyle alluded to but never fully wrote about. Here, Watson takes Holmes to see Sigmund Freud after it becomes apparent that his cocaine habit has worsened and is causing him to suffer from the paranoid delusion that Moriarty is after him. It would probably help to be familiar with Doyle's original Holmes stories before reading this book - however, fans of King's Russell and Holmes might appreciate some of the more character-oriented moments in this book.
  • Strong Poison (book) by Dorothy L. Sayers - When her fiance is poisoned, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is accused, due to her knowledge of poisons. However, Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with her and vows to clear her name. Those who'd like another mystery with a somewhat similar setting (Sayers's books take place a bit later, in Great Britain between WWI and WWII) might want to try this. Also, those who enjoyed the hint of future romance in King's book may like the bit of romance between Wimsey and Harriet.
  • The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (book) by Michael Chabon - This book takes place during WWII, when Sherlock Holmes (who Chabon never actually mentions by name) is nearly in his 90s and content with his retirement and beekeeping. However, Holmes becomes intrigued by an intelligent, mute boy with a parrot who says, among other things, numbers in German. When the parrot is stolen and the police ask Holmes for help, Holmes agrees to get involved. Those who'd like another story featuring Holmes, set after his retirement, might enjoy this.

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