Thursday, 30 June 2011
Sherlock Holmes Pastiche
The Beekeeper's Apprentice
by Laurie R. King
The first Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery
My reading this book is a good example of how book blogs can help promote and spread the word about an individual title. The Beekeeper's Apprentice is a title I seem to have seen on various sites over the years, almost always with an enthusiastic and glowing review, so when I was wandering in Pulp Fiction, (favourite genre bookshop) and this title was prominently displayed it seemed a natural move to pick it up and add it to my TBR, in the last few days I finally got around to reading it.
First let me say that as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche featuring a young woman with an intellect to match and rival the great detective, this book would have been absolutely loved by my fourteen year old self but I must admit that my more cynical and critical older self was left wondering what all the fuss was about. A diverting enough escape, I think perhaps my expectations for this title may have been just too high.
This novel sees the fifteen year old Mary Russell wandering somewhat clumsily around the Sussex Downs with her nose buried in a book where she stumbles into an older man engaged in an intense study of bees, the man of course turns out to be none other than the now retired Sherlock Holmes. Holmes impressed by Mary's apparent intellect begins a mentoring relationship with the young Mary. Essentially a Mary Sue character I found the story of Mary Russell to be unrealistic and like most Mary Sue creations ultimately irritating. Characterisation was for me a serious issue in this text, the problem with using someone else’s well established characters is that your own interpretation will not match up with how readers imagined the original creation and this was very much the issue for me, King’s Sherlock Holmes just never really fitted my image and expectations of the character, for that matter neither did the peripheral characters of Watson, Mrs Hudson and Mycroft. The plot itself was okay and structurally at least King tried to emulate the feel of Doyle’s original collected stories. Russell and Holmes deal with a number of minor mysteries culminating in the abduction of a child and finally one significant challenge, there is, however, little mystery in that final challenge, although it is a diverting enough read.
The precocious arrogance of Mary Russel was more than a little irritating, her dismissal of Watson as essentially stupid next to not only Holmes’ intellect but her own, was off putting, even though it was not unusual for Holmes to dismiss Watson’s intelligence in the original stories. I think it was just the blatant Mary Sue nature of the novel that left me unimpressed. Like the author, Mary Russell has an interest in theology, and it is theology along with chemistry that Russell chooses to study at Oxford. Towards the end of the novel Holmes and Russell are sent off on an excursion through Palestine, which seems to have more to do with pandering to King’s particular interests than the requirements of the narrative and the final damming element for me was the romance emerging between the aging detective and the much, much younger female protagonist. In later novels Russell and Holmes become a married couple, I think I prefer my detectives as essentially isolated and tortured figures because Sherlock Holmes as a happy married man just doesn't seem right and certainly not if the woman in question is young enough to be his granddaughter.
Certainly King has considerable skill, this is a hugely popular novel, so I feel a little guilty for not really liking this novel. A story about an intelligent, strong young woman set during the early 20th century, I really should like this novel and yet I don’t. I don’t want to put anyone off reading this book, it’s just that for me at least this book will not be remembered as a favourite read, having said that, it is still a book I would recommend to young readers. I am sure I have seen this title described as a young adult book and I suspect at, say fourteen I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. I would have enjoyed the kick arse nature of Mary’s character, her intelligence and independence and even probably the fantasy of her relationship with Sherlock Holmes.
It would be a dull world if we all liked the same things, but at least I can to an extent understand and appreciate other readers fondness for this novel and the rest of the series, it just isn’t my cup of tea so to speak.