he Beekeeper in the title of this novel is Sherlock Holmes. Laurie
King imagines that he has retired to the countryside in the early 20th century. It is the time
of World War I, most of England's attention is focused on the war on the continent. A young orphaned girl
named Mary Russell lives with her aunt in western England, next to Holmes' cottage. Mary is a brilliant
and observant young girl, her intelligence impresses Holmes when they have a chance meeting.
The 50 year old man and teenage girl become friends. Inevitably, Mary Russell learns from the master
detective how he approaches cases, and naturally, she gets involved.
I was disappointed by this book. I thought there would be a lot more criminal catching
and keen detective observations. But King decided to focus most of her novel on the relationship between
Holmes and Russell. The big crime that is the center of the plot doesn't even get introduced until half
way through the book, and even then it seems secondary to the Russell/Holmes dynamic. There is a long
digression to Palestine that has nothing to do with catching the villian, I thought this side trip to
the Middle East really slowed the narrative. I guess the jaunt was to allow Mary and Sherlock to spend
some quality time together so that Laurie King could write about the developing personal interaction between
the pair, but I think the pacing suffered.
One of the big clues in the novel is a coded message that the perpetrator leaves for Holmes
at the scene of the crime - it is a series of knife slashes in cloth that spell out a bunch of Roman numerals.
This strikes me as an unlikely way to leave a message - if the cloth were slightly displaced, wouldn't all the
slash marks be jumbled and the message lost?
If Russell and Holmes CAN figure out the code, then the villian will be instantly unmasked, so why leave any
message at all? Or perhaps the villain should have left a series of slashes that are complete gibberish, just
to throw Holmes off the scent? And what villain has time to make a series of precise knife slashes in middle of
an intense escape scene? The plot in this book relies much
too heavily upon the bad guys trying to outsmart Holmes. Not only must the bad guys defeat Holmes, but they want
Holmes to know that they have won. When Russell and Holmes come under observation by a
network of spies, why not enlist some of Mycroft's men to follow the spies? It would seem like an easy thing
Unfortunately, at the climax, King has a long section devoted to the bad guy explaining to
Holmes and Russell all their mis-steps and how they were outsmarted. Sure, this gloating narrative clears up a lot
of plot details and answers some mysteries, but does anyone in the real world find it necessary
to explain their deeds to their nemesis? This happens frequently in novels and movies, but it just doesn't ring
true to me, it is a plot device from a beginning author. I know this is the first book in the Mary Russell novels, but I
thought Laurie King had written other novels before this one.
King does paint a nice portrait of Russell, and especially Sherlock Holmes. They come across
as likeable, believable characters. I will probably read the next book in this series in the hope that the
pair are given a more substantial case to solve - more detecting and less about the Holmes / Russell relationship.