The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

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I was looking for a light-hearted mystery to fill the requirement for my library summer reading program, and The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King certainly fit the bill. I’m glad I read it.

Mary Russell is an astute young woman residing in the World War I British countryside when she meets her neighbor, a retired middle-aged gentleman known to the world as Sherlock Holmes.

It quickly becomes clear to the reader that Mary Russell’s powers of observation help make her a competent match for the retired detective. From their first meeting, Holmes and Russell form a friendship. And when Russell becomes involved in some mysteries, Holmes takes her on as his unofficial apprentice.

I enjoyed reading this book. From the introduction, Laurie King made it appear that this was a true account and that she had simply came upon the memoir. I loved that little twist to make this feel realistic. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was light-hearted, and it was fun to see a literary character in a new situation.

However, I felt I would have loved it more had I been originally familiar with Sherlock Holmes’ tales and maybe mysteries in general. I do admit that I’m curious to read Sherlock Holmes now.

It’s not that I didn’t like this book: I did. Rather, I feel unfamiliar with mysteries and therefore incompetent to comment on how this compares to others. I’m simply not sure if the mystery genre is for me. I’ve also read many of the books in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith, which I have loved. McCall-Smith’s books seem to be a bit less “mystery” filled, so maybe that’s why I enjoyed them more.

In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, most of the mysteries were solved by the ridiculous powers of observation that Holmes and Russell had (such as observing that the dirt on the scene of the crime was from a certain street in London and that the cigarette ashes were from cigarettes wrapped at a particular tobacconist shop, and so forth). I assume that these observations were a trademark of Sherlock Holmes, but I’m not certain: Are most “mysteries” (real or not) solved by the seemingly impossible-to-detect details? This was not my favorite aspect of the book; it just made it seem unbelievable to me.

But the mysteries were not what drew me in to the novel. Rather, it was Mary Russell. Russell’s development from a 15-year-old to a young woman was most beautifully captured. I liked the book because I liked Mary Russell herself.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first of a series of nine books about Mary Russell. While I’m not rushing out to read the others, I really did enjoy this first book. The next time I feel like a modern mystery, I’m definitely going to keep the Mary Russell series in mind!

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Reviewed on July 28, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’ve been wanting to read this one since Eva reviewed it several months back on her blog! I even have a copy waiting and everything, I just have to wait for the right mood to strike. And I must admit that I was nervous that I might not appreciate the series as much if I hadn’t read at least some Sherlock Holmes beforehand, so I’ve also been slowly reading those stories and novels as well. They are so much fun (I’ve reviewed the first two on my blog), so I do highly recommend them.

    As for whether all mysteries rely on the sleuths picking up on details we could not be privy to as readers, I think this is something more specific to Sherlock Holmes than many other detective novels. I did mention in my reviews of the first two novels that there was no way a mere mortal (reader) could hope to solve any of the murders as we don’t have access to all of the scenic information, but they were still fun! I do have a fondness for the mystery genre, but the Holmes stories aren’t really going to allow you to put on your sleuthing cap and play along. You’re really just there for the ride! But other authors (like Agatha Christie, for instance) actually give you a fair shot of solving the crime before the detective does!

  • Sort of off-topic, but I really want to read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I won it during the April readathon, and the person STILL hasn’t mailed it out to me. I asked the readathon organizers about it a month ago, and they contacted the sponser, who said she’d send it out the next day, but I still don’t have it. I have a feeling I’m never going to get it, which irks me. If you’re going to sponser a prize, make sure you can handle that, right? Ugh. Anyway, i think I’m going to have to pull it from the library one of these days.

    I’m not famliar with Holmes, either. I tried to read a couple of his stories, but couldn’t get into them. That might be because I was looking for something specific (a reference from a song) and because I started in the middle, though.

  • I’m not a mystery fan in general but I am a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, and I’ve come to love Mary Russell as well in the past year.

    The “impossible-to-detect-details” you mention ARE trademark Holmes – that is what made him such a great detective in the books. And of course, that carries over to the Mary Russell books as well. I don’t think they are common in other mysteries though, but I could be wrong as I’m not a big mystery reader.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this book in spite of the unbelievable-ness. The whole series does focus on Mary and her development so I’m sure you’d enjoy the rest of the books as well.

  • Steph, I didn’t love it as much as Eva did, I don’t think, but I still enjoyed it. I don’t really have a fondness for the mystery genre, though, so I think that’s it. If you like the “go along for the ride” type, I think you’ll love this. You’ll also really enjoy the inside Sherlock Holmes jokes that missed!

    Amanda, I loved the No. 1 Ladies series! That was my go to book every year pre-book blogging. I haven’t reread any of them since I started blogging though. I do hope you enjoy it when you get it. (and hopefully it comes soon!!)

    Heather J., Oh, I’m glad that the series focuses on Mary Russell because she was my favorite! I seriously could have done without the mystery, which I guess is backwards, but at least Mary Russell is so much fun.

    Kathy, oh it is fun! I hope you get to it soon.

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