Book Discussion Guide: Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King: Reviews
Imagine Sherlock Holmes retiring to a Sussex farm but keeping his hand in by occasionally investigating cases for the British government. Imagine further that Watson was not so much Holmes' helpmate and confidant as a kindly bumbler who proved more a hindrance than a help. Then picture Holmes, walking on the Sussex Downs, literally stumbling across a 15-year-old girl whose brilliant intellect, caustic wit, egotistical personality, and gift for detail rival Holmes' own. Finally, envision the stirring adventures Holmes and his protégé could have as a detective duo. King has used these fanciful possibilities to create a wonderfully original and entertaining story that is funny, heartwarming, and full of intrigue, with Holmes and his young apprentice, Mary Russell, matching wits with some of the finer criminal minds of the times, including the brilliantly diabolic daughter of Holmes’ old enemy, Professor Moriarty. Everything about this book rings true, from the ambience of World War I England to the intriguing relationship between Holmes and Mary to the surprising final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty's daughter. Holmes fans, history buffs, lovers of humor and adventure, and mystery devotees will all find King's book absorbing from beginning to end.
From School Library Journal
At 15, Mary Russell is tall and gangling, bespectacled and bookish. In 1915, the orphaned heiress is living in her ancestral home with an embittered aunt she has plucked from genteel poverty to act as a guardian until she reaches her majority. In order to escape the woman's generally malevolent disposition, she wanders the Downs. On one such outing, she trips over a gaunt, elderly man sitting on the ground, "watching bees." This gentleman turns out to be Sherlock Holmes, and the resulting acquaintance evolves into a mentoring experience for the young woman. The story is well written in a style slightly reminiscent of Conan Doyle's, but is also very much King's own. The plot is somewhat predictable, but the characterizations are excellent and the times and places are skillfully evoked. Readers come to understand much of Holmes that was unexplained by Dr. Watson. These additions are entirely plausible, and the relationship between the great detective and his apprentice is delightful. Readers see much of Sussex, London, and even of student life at Oxford and the conditions of Romanies (Gypsies) in Wales. Wartime Britain is accurately evoked, and the whole is a lot of fun to read. While a fitting addition to the Holmes oeuvre, the narrative is delightfully feminist.
From Kirkus Reviews
Nothing in King's brooding debut A Grave Talent (1993) could have prepared you for this uncommonly rich Sherlockian pastiche, in which the great detective is brought out of retirement among the bees of Sussex by a new amanuensis, budding theologian Mary Russell. Meeting the great man at the awkward age of 15, Russell (as he calls her) proves herself his intellectual equal even before their first case – mysterious bouts of illness that befall their victims only in clear weather. After investigating a robbery and a kidnapping with Holmes, Mary goes to Oxford, and just when you've resigned yourself to more unrelated adventures, the story takes off with a series of bombings that put both Holmes and Mary in danger, and call forth both their sharpest mental efforts and their deepest feelings. Miles above recent pastiches by Carole Nelson Douglas (Irene at Large, 1992) and Nicholas Meyer – a surpassingly ingenious companion to Sena Jeter Naslund's Sherlock in Love. Don't be disappointed, though, by the most unexpected culprit since Jefferson Hope.