The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #1)

The Beekeeper's Apprentice book cover A Sweeping and Enchanting Tale – 4.5 Stars

In the past couple of years I have firmly decided that I love a great character driven novel. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice fits that bill. It takes a tried and true character in Sherlock Holmes and adds a spunky young feminist into the mix. The result is an excellent novel with nuanced and complex characters. If you like your mysteries to be character driven, this one may be right up your alley.

Plot summary

The story is told from the perspective of one Mary Russell. It chronicles her meeting with and formation of her partnership with a 54 year old Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has been retired for many years now and spends his days tending his beehives, running his experiments and writing his magnum opus on forensic science. Mary meets Holmes as a teenaged girl. She has a quick wit and is intellectually gifted. Her and Holmes come to develop a lasting relationship. The stories covers Mary’s “apprentice years” while she learns from Holmes and attends Oxford to study Chemistry and Religion. Along the way, the pair deals with some minor crimes and small cases until a bomber forces Mary’s training to come to a head and requires that Holmes rely on the skills he has taught Mary.

The Good

The characters are superb. I am not a Sherlock Holmes fan. In fact, this is the first book I have ever read that had Holmes as a character. I cannot say that if fan of Sherlock Holmes will find the portrayal entertaining or sacrilegious. The author makes it clear that not everything you have read about Sherlock is true. While Holmes is an interesting character, the real focus is Mary Russell. She is a complex character with a painful past. This first book in this series is really a coming of age story for Mary Russell. A young strong headed feminist teenage meets the famous and talented Mr. Holmes. There is some shared experiences and a wonderful father/daughter relationship that forms between these unlikely friends and partners.

The novel was beautifully situation in its historical setting. Much of the story was set against the backdrop of World War I and the novel dealt in part with the realities in Britain during that period of time . The story’s historical resonance added another layer to this complex novel.

The Bad

From time to time, the internal logic of the story did not make sense and the characters would occasionally give mixed messages. For example, Mary Russell begins the story with a narrative of Holmes and Watson and is rather disparaging of the later and his mental acuity. Later on in the story, she indicates how incredibly fond she is of Watson and refers to him as Uncle John. There were several such incidents which took away from the overall story.

The biggest fault, in my opinion, was the final confrontation with the ultimate villain. It came off as rather stereotypical and was somewhat anticlimactic after the long cat and mouse game. I was disappointed that the pair did not discover the motivation of the villain and pass it along to the reader. The author instead chose to use the gloating villain who info dumps the entire plan and motivation. The final confrontation did not live up to what I would expect from Holmes and Russell.

Can this Book Stand Alone

Definitely. This is the first in the series and is self contained.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery. The characters made the novel and I look forward to continuing the series. If you are looking for a story that deals with the later years of Sherlock Holmes or paints him is a bit of a different light, you will enjoy this story.

Audiobook Notes

Jenny Sterlin gives a five star performance. She is one of the best female narrators I have heard. She does an excellent job with the male voices and especially that of Sherlock Holmes. The writing and language in the novel is quite proper and period specific English. She handled it deftly and it was a pleasant listening experience.

Content Advisories

It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.

Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest

Sex 1.5

There is very little sexual content. There are rumours that insinuate Holmes and Russell are in an inappropriate relationship and a couple of scenes of awkward tension where one party needs to change or clean in front of someone of the opposite sex. Overall, it is appropriate for all ages.

Language 2

Minor obscenities and language specific to the date and time. Appropriate for all ages.

Violence 2.5

There are various scenes of violence but no one scene is graphic. There are physical injuries from bombings and injuries from beatings. There are several deaths after struggles and there is some psychological violence from kidnappings and hostage situations.

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.