In 1987 Laurie R. King was looking around for something to do. She had two small children, a husband nearing retirement, a large vegetable garden, an orchard, and a master’s degree in theology (and you thought your degree was useless). She would have liked to plunge into the Ph.D. in theology, but considering the children, the husband, and the garden, she thought maybe she shouldn’t. Her family had moved about so frequently when she was a child that she sort of gave up on making friends and instead courted the library in each new place they moved to, so she had always been a tremendous reader. Now in her thirties, it finally occurred to her that books were not handed down from above but were actually written by mere mortals. And that got her to thinking...
If Sherlock Holmes had been a woman, what would she have been like?
She sat down at her desk and started writing, and 28 days later she had the rough draft of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice . The beekeeper’s apprentice turns out to be a girl who is 15 years old in the year 1915. She is half American, half English, is possessed of a fortune she does not yet control, brilliant intelligence, and numerous scars both mental and physical left from the loss of her family. The beekeeper she becomes apprenticed to is the semi-retired, 54-year-old Sherlock Holmes.
I heard about Laurie King and The Beekeeper’s Apprentice via a reader-recommendation on Amazon. The reviewer said that her two favorite series were The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King. Since the Amelia Peabody books were also my favorite series, I jumped right over to read about the Mary Russell books. When I learned that Ms. King had taken Conan Doyle’s character for her own use, I was a bit dubious. I generally avoid pastiches, believing that a truly first-rate author would come up with her own ideas. However, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was so well reviewed that I decided to give it a chance. And boy am I glad I did.
I was never a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I had read a few of them, but felt no overpowering desire to read the complete series. Since I was introduced to Mary Russell, I have gone back and read a few more of the Conan Doyle stories, but not many. I like the Mary Russell books much better. As far as I can tell, being only a casual acquaintance of the Conan Doyle books, King keeps the Sherlock Holmes of her books true to Conan Doyle’s conception of him. However, Sherlock Holmes is not the main character in her books. He is a major character but not THE main character - Mary Russell is.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is a difficult book to put down. It has humor, adventure, heart-pounding terror and several first-rate mysteries for Russell and Holmes to solve. Mystery is not my favorite genre. I do read mysteries, but not as many as in some other genres. However, my father reads mysteries almost exclusively, and he feels that Laurie King is a genius.
Interestingly, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was not King’s first published book. She wrote two Mary Russell books but could not find a publisher who wanted them, so she then wrote a mystery which involves a present-day San Francisco cop, Kate Martinelli. This book, published as A Grave Talent won her the Edgar Award. Once her foot was in the door, her publisher was willing to publish The Beekeeper’s Apprentice . Ironically, the Mary Russells now sell better than the Kate Martinelli books, so her publishers are always urging her to write more Mary Russell. In an interview with AfterEllen, King says, “Yeah, well, that’s typical, isn’t it? Nobody wants something because it’s different, until suddenly they want it because it’s different.”
Here are some comments made by reviewers which I have taken from the back of the book:
KING has stepped onto the sacred literary preserve
of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, poached Holmes, and brilliantly
brought him to life again.
– The Washington Post Book World
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice has the power to charm
the most grizzled Baker Street irregular.
– Daily News , New York
– Chicago Sun-Times
Wonderful: an intelligently and imaginatively crafted novel
that’s also great fun.
– The Drood Review of Mystery
- The AfterEllen interview: http://www.afterellen.com/People/interviews/92004/laurieking.html
- Ms. King’s autobiography: http://www.laurierking.com/autobiography.php