TBR Challenge Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Format: mass market, but newer editions appear to be trade
Pub Date: orig. 1994, mmpb 1996
Publisher: Bantam
Length: 405 pages
POV: 1st/past
FTC: purchased myself

Not only am I a day late with my TBR review, I'm stretching the theme just a bit. This month's theme is "a series you're behind in." Well...this is book 1, and I haven't read any of the others...So I'm claiming it qualifies as a series I am (way, way) behind in.

I found this book in a sad, neglected box in the depths of the garage a few weeks ago. A box that has sat, unpacked, since our move in 2004. I used to read quite a bit more mystery back in those days, and I'm quite sure I picked this one up from a library used book sale somewhere. It's...weathered.

It is also, in case the pipe on this weird cover doesn't give it away, a Sherlock Holmes book.

This book is 23 years old. It, and the series, is not completely unknown to me, but I've never managed to read anything by this author. Which is a shame, because I think I would have loved this even more had I discovered this at the same time I was reading the Amelia Peabody series. There's a lot of similarities.

Our narrator is an elderly Miss Mary Russell, who begins her story like a grandmother in a rocking chair, settling down for a long, sometimes rambling, tale of how she met (and worked with) the world's "greatest" detective. The story is told in first person, but set in the distant past, and very much reminds me of an oral history.

Interestingly, this isn't a mystery in a traditional sense. It's not a tightly woven story about a single crime that the protagonists must figure out. Instead, a large part of it is about relationships, growing up, the changes happening in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. The mystery is there, but it is more a series of events/crimes/attacks than any one crime, and in that way is far more thriller than whodunnit.

For those familiar with the original Doyle stories, the most striking thing is the virtual absence of Watson and the huge presence of Mrs. Hudson. It's deliberate, as our narrator makes quite clear, but it changes the flavor of the book quite a bit. There's a definite female lens applied to the story, and I really enjoyed it.

The book is a little long, and the story drags here and there. It took me a full week to read it, and I can usually read a book in a day or two, counting for interruptions. Overall, though, I thought it was quite a good reinvention. Now Sherlock Holmes stories are thick on the ground anymore, but this was written before the newest TV reinventions. I think, taking that into account, it is pretty remarkable. I liked it enough to try the next in the series.

My Grade: B+

The Blurb:
In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes--and match him wit for wit. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. In their first case together, they must track down a kidnapped American senator's daughter and confront a truly cunning adversary--a bomber who has set trip wires for the sleuths and who will stop at nothing to end their partnership.


  1. It's always nice to discover a cache of books you'd forgotten about! I've heard wonderful things about the Amelia Peabody series but I've never read one. So many books, so little time...

    1. It's a great series. The last one is due out this month.

  2. I knew about the Amelia Peabody series although I have read none of the books. But nothing about this series, and I'm not sure it's the kind of book I would like, as I'm not a Sherlock fan. I don't detest that kind of book, but I don't see anything special in that line of mystery story. It could be that nowadays I tend to read mysteries set outside the Anglosaxon world.