My husband’s thumbs-up on this book (which he gives with great enthusiasm) is probably more significant than mine, since Jason is the Sherlock Holmes fan in the family. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first in King’s series of novels re-imagining the famous detective in retirement with an unlikely apprentice: an exceptionally brilliant young woman named Mary Russell with a mind as keen and analytical as Holmes’ own.
I am not a huge mystery fan, though I do enjoy some of the classics. I have read all the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and I am a huge fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. In some ways what Laurie King has done here is similar to what Jill Paton Walsh did in taking over the Lord Peter Wimsey series and writing new adventures for the great detective, but I think King’s attempt is more successful, and I’ll try to explain why.
First, there’s the obvious fact that I’m a less stringent critic in this case than I was with the Wimsey novels: I am so intimate with Lord Peter (don’t I wish!) that every nuance and tone is familiar to me, and rings false if it’s “off” (which I frequently find it is in Jill Paton Walsh’s version). Not being a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan, I’m less likely to be bothered by discrepancies between King’s new version and the original Arthur Conan Doyle product. But King has also handled the issue of the narrator in a way that allows her to account for discrepancies: while the original Holmes stories were told from the point of view of Holmes’ loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice uses Mary Russell as first-person narrator, and she tells the reader up front that she knew a different side of Holmes than Watson did, and so the way in which she depicts the great man is bound to differ somewhat.
The most appealing thing, to me, about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is that both Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell are complete, well-rounded and fascinating characters who keep me completely engaged in the story. I’m much more of a character-driven than a plot-driven reader, which is why most mysteries don’t appeal to me. Both Jason, who is more of a typical mystery reader, and I wanted to read more of these novels, and the next two in the series (A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary) are packed in our bags waiting for our trip to England!