Laurie R. King started her Mary Russell mystery series over 15 years ago and has had quite some time to develop it. According to the inside of my paperback, she has eight novels so far. I just sat down this week with the first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and wasn't disappointed!
The premise of The Beekeeper's Apprentice is that Sherlock Holmes is a real live person living out a quiet retirement in Sussex during WWI when teenager Mary Russell crosses his path. In many ways, orphaned Russell is a younger, female version of Holmes -- complete with acerbic wit, searing intellect, and a penchant for observation and deduction. Holmes is intrigued and sets about casually training her and honing her skills. Predictably, they work together on a few cases that get more dangerous and more personal as time goes on.
At first I wasn't a huge fan of Mary Russell. I enjoyed reading about Sherlock Holmes years ago when I was a teenager, but I wasn't excited to read about a younger, female version of him. So the first few chapters weren't very engaging to me. As she ages and matures, however, her humanness emerges and she becomes a much more sympathetic and interesting character. Holmes himself grew on me as well. It's been so long since I've read any of Conan Doyle's work that my memory of Holmes is a general feeling rather than specifically accurate. But eventually I was able to believe that he was THE Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, even if King's version shows more empathy and gentleness than I remember from Conan Doyle's.
There is mystery and suspense, of course, but mostly it is about the relationship between Russell and Holmes. Holmes plays the role of friend, mentor, even father figure to Russell, but as she approaches her 20's there is definitely the underlying question of another form of attachment -- despite the difference of almost 40 years in their ages -- blatantly raised by outsiders if not the reader. Both Holmes and Russell are very devoted and pure in their friendship, but there is an intimacy there that makes me wonder what King has in mind as Russell grows into full adulthood.
I think I mostly enjoyed this book because I like Sherlock Holmes and I like strong female characters and King did a good job creating both. I'll definitely have to come back for more!