Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review - The Beekeeper's Apprentice

I've enjoyed Sherlock Holmes both generally and specifically since I was a young kid. I've had a ton of fun with the various movies and TV shows, both those based directly on Conan Doyle's work and the various spin-offs and parodies.

I stumbled across The Beekeeper's Apprentice in a bookstore and figured it would make a great gift for my mystery loving wife. She enjoyed the book thoroughly and has devoured the many books that follow in the series.

After being told again and again how good it was, I finally got around to reading Beekeeper over the past couple of weeks. I already had a general sense of what to expect and I've also had a few spoilers of events in future books that shed different light on some of the passages in this first book. Knowing those changes would be coming made me appreciate the way King has woven her tales together with minute allusions throughout.

The pace started out slowly and innocently enough with the introduction of Mary Russell and a now-retired Sherlock Holmes settled in a remote countryside estate. The initial conversation between the pair was humorous and did a good job of immediately giving us a lot of depth into Mary's personality.

The general flow of the novel was fluid and natural. As Sherlock took Mary into an unofficial apprenticeship, it was fun to read about her training and their interactions. I wasn't quite sure what would happen once Holmes decided she was "ready", but once again I was pleased with the way King handled the transition from apprentice to novice to partner.

The various initial "cases" that Mary and Sherlock embarked on together were interesting and I loved the way they grew in importance and complexity. I felt like King did a good job of explaining the in-depth analysis of the Consulting Detective and his apprentice. There were still moments when the minutia felt a little over the top and silly, but I felt the same about some of the explanations given in the Conan Doyle works.

Once Sherlock and Mary were involved in their major case for the last ~half of the book, things really took off and I was excited by the intensity of the case. I was a little saddened by the interlude while the two spent time in Jerusalem. It provided great moments for character development as well as opening up a few elements to be used later, but overall it felt to me as a pause in the action that was just a little too lengthy and almost made me want to skip ahead to their return to London. I'm glad I didn't as the narrative was very interesting, but still, it felt a little disjointed.

My other complaint (another very minor one) was Mary's age. I acknowledge that she is supposed to be very intelligent/wise and mature for her age, but too often she felt MUCH older than her teenage self (and even her early-twenty-year-old self). The book takes us through ~5-8 years (I forget exactly) and matures Mary from mid-teens to early-twenties. And yet, I didn't feel any real sense of aging in our protagonist. Perhaps that's to suggest that she already had her adult sensibilities in her early teens, but I still would have liked to have seen something a little more dramatic as she aged. At the same time, hormonal instability or teenage angst would have felt very out of place and been rather distracting, so it's better that she stayed constant.

Don't get me wrong, Mary did learn from Sherlock and improved in her deductive abilities and trusting her instincts. She had the inborn tendencies to follow in Sherlock's footsteps as evidenced in the first chapter. By the end of the book, she was certainly on par with the master who had taught her and her methods were refined.

The story was engaging and entertaining. The mystery was puzzling and fun, though it does sometimes annoy me me when the author doesn't give the reader enough information to solve the mystery without the help of the protagonists. Still, that's a difficult balance to maintain, since providing too many clues can make a mystery predictable and boring. Given the choice, I'd rather have the story end this way.

I really enjoyed this book, the story, the characters, the writing. It was a great read and I'll work my way through the rest of the series over time. Fans of mystery and/or Holmes, should certainly enjoy this.

4 out of 5 stars

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