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Ms King is the Edgar award winning author of the Kate Martinelli series, an entirely pedestrian policewoman cycle, distinguished only by the fact that Martinelli is a lesbian.  In The Beekeeper's Apprentice she brings a feminist touch to the Sherlock Holmes mythos.  As I've mentioned before (see the Frankenstein review), the 19th century bequeathed us four iconic literary creations: Frankenstein, Dracula, Moby Dick/Ahab & Sherlock Holmes.  We see them revived over and over, most often with some cute modern twist (my personal favorite Holmes revivals: the Nicholas Meyer novel The Seven Percent Solution, wherein Sigmund Freud helps him with his cocaine addiction; the film They Might Be Giants, with George C. Scott as an insane? Holmes wannabe & Joanne Woodward as his psychiatrist/reluctant Watson; and the Magnum, PI episode with Higgins playing Watson to Patrick McNee's Holmes), but the characters are so strong that they survive most any mutilation and so this new treatment seems semi inevitable.

King has picked up the tale in 1915, with Holmes retired to his beehives in the Sussex countryside.  Into his life of seclusion stumbles a precocious teenage orphan girl named Mary Russell, who quickly proves to have a mind that is a ready match for Holmes.  They begin to solve crimes together and eventually, by this time Mary is attending Oxford, they run afoul of an archvillian who is intent on bringing about Holmes' demise.  Of course, this master criminal is also a woman.

King has picked up a double edged sword here; the mere presence of Sherlock Holmes (& Watson & Mrs. Hudson & Mycroft & Lestrade) virtually guarantees a decent tale (unless the author's a total butcher), but by choosing a figure who comes to us with such a weighty reputation & then trying to craft her own characters to set up as his equals, she has bitten off more than she can chew.  Unable to bring Mary up to the level of the Holmes of the Conan Doyle series, she instead brings him down to the level of her own character Mary Russell.  The result is a middling mystery, but one ends the book more than willing to read the future entries in the series.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -The Sherlockian Holmepage
    -Sherlock Holmes Page (Free Markets)
    -Literary Research Guide: Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 - 1930)
    -INTERVIEW: Into a Darker Place Laurie King (
    -The Man Who Hated Sherlock Holmes (Algis Valiunas, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: Clive James: Sherlockology (NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Zen in the Art of Sherlock Holmes Can fiction's greatest detective unravel life's greatest mysteries (Stephen Kendrick, Utne Reader)
    -REVIEW: Teller of Tales, The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower (D J Taylor, London Times)
    -ARTICLE : Origins of Sherlock Holmes novel in question (THE ARTS REPORT - CBC Radio)

If you liked The Beekeeper's Apprentice, try:

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan
    -The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Frost, Mark
    -The List of 7

Meyer, Nicholas
    -The Seven Percent Solution


Surely, no author under the blazing sun will ever compare to the cunning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, however, many will try. Sherlock Holmes is God himself, and any adulteration of his complex and enigmatic nature is sheer sacrilege. Nevertheless, since Laurie King is not Conan Doyle, she should not be held to the same high standards. She did her best with what she had, and frankly, it was quite successful.

- Mariah

- Apr-05-2007, 23:18


I am an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes and I hardly take to pastiches. However, I'm hooked on the Mary Russell series! The feminism can be, at times, too much and it is quite true that King brings Holmes down to Russell's level. The writing, however, is in true Holmes form and I believe that the characters' personalities are true to their personalities in the Canon. Another problem is that the stories slowly get worse... the relationship between Holmes and Russell becomes even more bitter and sarcastic until it seems like there isn't an interesting relationship anymore. My personal favorites are "The Beekeeper's Apprentice," "A Monstruous Regiment of Women," and "O Jerusalem." From then on... I get bored. I have read 'Beekeeper's' numerous times, though, and have enjoyed every minture of each of those readings.

- Madison

- Jun-13-2006, 22:22