The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is Laurie R. King’s take on Sherlock Holmes towards the end of his career. In this first book of a series, Holmes meet fifteen-year-old Mary Russell, an independent girl who is as clever and observant as he is. As the title suggests, he begins tutoring her in the ways of detective work, and pretty soon they are teaming up together on cases.
I don’t normally read books that are someone else’s version of a fictional character. I’m a purist. I don’t want to read about Mr. Darcy outside of Pride and Prejudice, or Scarlett O’Hara outside of Gone with the Wind. The copyright may be expired but it still seems like stealing. And it’s not like these books come close to improving on the original. (See this page on Goodreads if you’re wondering what I’m talking about.)
For the record, I think modern-day adaptations of classic stories are different, like Bridget Jones’ Diary (Pride and Prejudice) or The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Jane Eyre) or A Thousand Acres (King Lear). I guess the difference is that those authors are modernizing and re-imagining the story, rather than just writing a sequel they aren’t entitled to.
So why this book? For one thing, I love British period mysteries, and King’s books are often recommended. And I’m no expert on Sherlock Holmes, but I do love the stories. Sherlock Holmes has been done so many times by authors, movies, and television, he’s pretty safe ground. Maybe it works well because you’re not changing the story or his character, just giving him more mysteries to solve.
Ultimately, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice seems to really honor the works of Doyle and the character of Holmes. And the story was so well written, it really put me in the time and place. I loved reading about how Mary learns to be a detective and the things she struggles with (for example, occasionally wanting a normal life at college, and dealing with the very real dangers of criminal work). Sherlock Holmes plus a strong female character adds up to a great mystery novel.
The book is set in the years 1914-1919 and World War I is very much a backdrop. We see how it affects Mary’s life and the lives of women in general. For example, Mary speculates that she receives a much better college education because most of the men are out of the picture.
I don’t have much more to say except I really loved the story, the characters, and the way this book was written. A surprising “thumbs way up” for this one.