Fiction: “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” by Laurie R. King

Okay, this is literally the THIRD TIME I have tried to write this review. I am writing this on Caroline the Netbook, and this just proves once and for all why I cannot write on Caroline the Netbook. Because if the cursor happens to be outside of the writing box and I accidentally hit ‘backspace,’ the internets move to the last page I was on. And when I hit ‘forward’ after cursing heavily, the ‘saved draft’ is a blank window, because Caroline hates me. However, if I keep the cursor inside the writing box, I will be halfway through a paragraph, accidentally hit the touch pad with my thumb as I move to the space bar, and before I know it, I’m writing in the middle of the wrong paragraph or, worse, the paragraph I was writing disappears and I swear copiously again.

Some people would say, “Well, serves you right for naming your netbook after a flighty-yet-determined yearling vampire from The Vampire Diaries.” To which I say, SHUT UP.

And here’s why it’s so important that I actually write this review — because if this were for any other book, I’d be all, ‘fuck this shit, I have Fringe to watch and Futurama to record, lemme just throw a grade on this and be done with it.” But no — it is so important for me to write a real review, so I’m being very careful with my thumbs and hopefully the third time will be the charm.

Because here’s the situation: this is a first for That’s What She Read. This is the first time in the (short) history of the blog that I will have re-read a book that I’ve already reviewed. There were definitely books that I’ve reviewed that I’ve read before — some multiple times, even — but the reviews and the stories behind the books were always, for lack of a better phrase, “New to You.”

I had hinted during the Harry Potter re-read that I had wanted to re-read the Mary Russell series (by which I meant, ‘re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and Monstrous Regiment of Women so I can actually read the next book, which I think is A Letter of Mary“), and I had looked back at my original review, and realized that there is no way that anyone could tell what that book was about from my review.

So. Let’s try this again, and let’s hope that Caroline doesn’t fuck me over (like she did Matt, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother blog).

Mary Russell is a precocious young orphan, who one day literally trips over the great Sherlock Holmes while reading a book during a walk on the Sussex Downs. After exchanging sarcastic insults, without being asked, Russell illustrates her sense of deduction:

“I said, if you want a new hive you’ll have to follow the blue spots, because the reds are sure to be Tom Warner’s.”

“I am not hard of hearing, although I am short of credulity. How do you come to know my interests?”

“I should have thought it obvious,” I said impatiently, though even at that age I was aware that such things were not obvious to the majority of people. “I see paint on your pocket-handkerchief, and traces on your fingers where you wiped it away. The only reason to mark bees that I can think of is to enable one to follow them to their hive. You are either interested in gathering honey or in the bees themselves, and it is not the time of year to harvest honey. Three months ago we had an unusual cold spell that killed many hives. Therefore I assume that you are tracking these in order to replenish your own stock.”

The face that looked down at me was no longer fishlike. In fact, it resembled amazingly a captive eagle I had once seen, perched in aloof splendour looking down the ridge of his nose at this lesser creature, cold disdain staring out from his hooded grey eyes.

“My God,” he said in a voice of mock wonder, “it can think.” [8]

After their initial interaction, Holmes takes Russell back to his Sussex cottage, which is still being taken care of by Mrs. Hudson. Holmes and Russell become friends, and until Russell goes off to Oxford, she stops by frequently and becomes Holmes’s apprentice, learning the arts of detection.

There are a couple of small cases they work on together: a neighbor fears her husband is partaking in espionage (it turns out, in a rare case of stereotyping, it actually was the butler who did it that time), and an inn owner has some hams stolen.

One summer, the young daughter of a visiting American senator is kidnapped. As a move of last resort, the kidnapped daughter’s mother asks for Sherlock Holmes’s involvement, despite his retirement. Russell, in essence, bullies Holmes into bringing her along. He didn’t want her to come, but eventually recognizes her worth in the partnership. Russell’s deductions and her quick thinking actually leads her to rescue the daughter from her kidnappers.

Russell goes off to Oxford, and then the true mystery appears. Holmes randomly appears in her rooms, and she learns of a plot to kill Holmes, herself, and dear “Uncle John” Watson using a series of bombs. Holmes and Russell evade the bomber for a couple of days, then come perilously close to the receiving end of a bomb in their cab. Holmes then decides, with his brother Mycroft’s help, to escape the “heat” of London for a short time, in order to take some time to regroup and look at the evidence from afar. A theology scholar, Russell asks Holmes to take a case in Jerusalem. This case is later discussed in O Jerusalem, but I haven’t read that book yet.

When they return to London, they have enacted a plot to draw their villain into a trap: they will act as if they have separated and demonstrate outright aggression towards each other. Hopefully, believing Holmes to be declining without his dear friend Russell, the villain will make a move.

The case will end with a relation to the great Moriarty (and for more about my bitching about the canon!Moriarty, see here), and with a reconciliation between Russell and Holmes, as well as another appearance from the kidnapped daughter Russell rescued.

As I said in my previous entry, the language is rich and meaty. And I realized while reading it this time, that returning to this title is like curling up in bed on a cold afternoon in February under a cozy blanket with a warm cup of tea. It’s warm and welcoming and homey and cozy and home.

And now, the references I’m too much of an asshole to ignore:

In the rescue scene, Russell gives us this advice:

I unwound the rope from my waist (Always carry a length of rope; it’s the most useful thing in the world.) and tossed it at a branch that faced away from the house. [125]

I, of course, immediately went to these key scenes from one of my favorite movies [warning: mucho violence and profusive language]

Secondly, upon their return from Jerusalem, Russell and Holmes were already deep into their hatred of each other, and this is how Russell greets Mycroft and Watson:

“There he is, gentlemen, the great Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Savior of nations, the mind of the century, God’s gift to humanity. Gentlemen, I leave you to him.” [277]

So in a nice circle of events, this line made me snort out loud, because it brought to mind season one of Lost, where poor Shannon was telling someone about her brother Boone, and described him as “God’s friggin’ gift to humanity.” Now, if you’ve been following along with some other things I love, the actor who played Boone on Lost is now playing Damon on the new show of my heart, The Vampire Diaries. Which is another thing that just feels like home.

There’s not a lot of discussion around the friendship between Russell and Holmes — for many people (Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade Jr.), they take it as writ that they are apprentice and master, or later, partners. Russell does raise some questions around the propriety of her being an apprentice to a man who’s nearly forty years older than her, but the necessity of their partnership pushes any pesky gender considerations to the background. (Although the age and gender discussion does pop up again in the next title.)

Grade for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Still 6 stars


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