A study in crime: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

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For the festive season, it can be nice to return to the classics. Whilst the name Laurie R. King may be unfamiliar, the characters of her story will certainly ring a bell. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice centres around teenager Mary Russell, who stumbles upon a retired and grey-haired Sherlock Holmes. In the absence of consultant detective work, he has taken up beekeeping. The two unlikely friends have one thing in common; a flair for detective work and thus begins a formidable detective partnership. King does a wonderful job of continuing Arthur Conan Doyle’s world; characters including Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson and Mycroft make regular appearances in the adventures of Holmes and Russell.

whilst the name Laurie R. King may be unfamiliar, the characters of her story will certainly ring a bell.

The novel builds up slowly; the first few chapters detail Russell’s inadvertent meeting of Holmes and the beginnings of their friendship. King gradually builds up both the relationship between Russell and Holmes and the magnitude of the work they do together. At 15 years old, Russell is at first in awe of Holmes. Her detective skills, while above average, are not a match for his. As King builds their friendship, Russell grows too; amidst her crime solving she goes to university (Oxford); by the end of the novel her intelligence gives even Holmes a run for his money.

Their first case, a few chapters in, is a relatively mundane case involving the uncovering of a World War One traitor (the book chronologically follows those of Arthur Conan Doyle). The real meat of the novel comes in the kidnapping of an American senator’s daughter, which turns out to be the first glimpse of a mastermind who appears to outshine even Moriarty. Russell and Holmes eventually come face to face with the deadly adversary and the end result is a thrilling climax.

by the end of the novel her intelligence gives even Holmes a run for his money.

Let’s be honest: it’s no easy task to try and carry on the adventures of one of the most famous characters in the world. Arthur Conan Doyle is a formidable predecessor, to say the least. However, King presents a more accessible tale of the adventures of Russell and Holmes. If you’re not a fan of 19th century language, this novel is a great alternative. Whilst it would be impossible to emulate the magic of the originals, King does a wonderful job in introducing a new, more modern perspective on the world of Holmes through the eyes of Mary Russell.

Another refreshing element about the book is King’s choice of a female protagonist. Although Holmes is (obviously) a central character, it’s absolutely Mary Russell’s tale; the events of the book are told through her and the reader only ever sees Holmes through her eyes. This isn’t a copycat of the original tales. Crime literature is dominated with male protagonists, so King’s use of a woman who grows to match Holmes, results in a more modern take on a classic.

King does a wonderful job in introducing a new, more modern perspective on the world of Holmes

For anyone looking for an easier way into a classic crime book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is definitely a good suggestion. King manages to keep the flair and humour alive, whilst conjuring up a plot full of twists and turns. The result, which is followed by a series of Mary Russell and Holmes books, is a great read.

Photograph by Tomasz Baranowski via Flickr

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