Wednesday, 28 October 2015

'The Beekeeper's Apprentice' by Laurie R. King (1994)

Synopsis: The Beekeeper's Apprentice is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel and is the first book in the Mary Russell series. The year is 1915. Mary Russell is a 15 year old Jewish-American, proto-feminist and genius and is also fascinated with Old Testament theology. Having been recently orphaned, Mary has moved to a house in the Sussex Downs and is living with her spiteful aunt and guardian. One day Mary then almost literally stumbles across the great detective Sherlock Holmes while out on a walk. Holmes is now studying bees and is semi-retired (as he will still take on the odd case every now and again). Impressed with Mary's intelligence, Holmes decides to take Mary on as his apprentice. He then allows her to assist him in a few odd cases over the years whenever Mary comes home from Oxford university. When the daughter of an American senator is then kidnapped in Wales, Holmes and Russell go investigating and find signs of a master criminal at work. Although they manage to rescue the child, attempts are then made on not only their lives but the lives of John Watson and Mycroft Holmes. It seems that the criminal is out to kill Holmes and everyone he loves...

I really, really wanted to adore this book. I want to enjoy every single book that I read of course but I especially wanted to love this one: partly because it's generally considered to be one of the better Sherlock Holmes pastiches out there but mostly because it was highly recommended to me by a couple of blogger friends and now they'll going to be disappointed when they read this and find out that I didn't much care for it.

Before I'll get onto why this book didn't work out for me I'll just make it clear that I certainly didn't hate it. It has a very intriguing premise and there were definitely some parts of the book that I found interesting and enjoyable (e.g. the Wales section). The prose itself is lovely and there's some genuinely funny banter between Holmes and Mary. But unfortunately I just couldn't get past King's treatment of John Watson. He's barely in this book and Mary condescendingly dismisses him as a kind-hearted but bumbling old fool, which Holmes doesn't even attempt to defend. But what was even more frustrating than either of these things was that at one point Holmes forgot - forgot! - to warn Watson that his life was in danger! I'll be in my grave before I'll believe that Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes could be capable of that!

In the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Watson is portrayed as being a very efficient doctor and soldier and although not a genius is still intelligent in his own right. He even managed to solve a subplot in The Hound of the Baskervilles all by himself! And it's clear that Holmes loves and respects Watson very much and that Watson is important to him. Yes, there are times where Holmes clearly thinks Watson is being slow on the uptake but nevertheless he does often praise Watson for his intelligence and resourcefulness. I can't help but wonder if King based her book's Watson on Nigel Bruce's Watson from the Basil Rathbone films rather than the Watson of the canon. Either way it's certainly made me even more grateful for Jude Law and Martin Freeman's excellent portrayals of Watson.

To the people who recommended this book to me, I'm sorry, I did enjoy some aspects of this book but ultimately I just couldn't get past the characterisations of Watson and Holmes in this one and I doubt I'll be continuing with the rest of the series. Also, another reason for that is because I know that Mary and Holmes eventually become lovers and marry. The age gap between Holmes and Mary is 38 years! Which makes Holmes almost old enough to be Mary's grandfather! I've come across May-December romances in novels before and haven't minded them (Jane EyreRebecca, etc) but this is just too extreme for my liking.

Rating: 2/5


Hamlette said...

Ohhhhh! Woe is meeeeee! You didn't like it much!

Oh, look, a cute Sherlock gif. All good now :-)

Seriously, though, I'm a little sad you didn't like it as much as I do, but you liked House of Silk more than I did, so in the end, it all comes out even :-)

Hannah said...

It's almost as though I knew you couldn't stay mad at me if I put in a Sherlock GIF... *whistles nonchalantly*

And yes, hopefully a Sherlock Holmes pastiche will come along that we're both enjoy equally some day!

Hamlette said...

Well, see? They HAVE made a pastiche of sorts that we both like! Sherlock.

Have you read The Seven-Per-Cent Solution? I like that one a lot too.

Hannah said...

Hey, you're right!

No, I haven't. Isn't that the book where Holmes gets psychoanalysed by Sigmund Freud? I didn't really like the sound of that one but since you liked it I might have to look into it more...

Also - and I've been meaning to ask you this - if this particular book ever got turned into a movie or TV series who would you like to play Holmes and Russell? Just curious :)

Hamlette said...

Well, it's not so much about psychoanalysis as about Freud helping Holmes overcome his cocaine addiction. Watson's quite clever and resourceful in it, so I thought you might like it better since you didn't care for Watson in TBKA.

A dream cast for TBKA? Well, I'd love to have had Jeremy Brett for Holmes, so if this had been made in the '80s when he was the right age, then probably either Diane Lane or Jennifer Jason Leigh for Russell -- they were both good at playing intelligent, fierce women already by then, and both would have been around 20, so could have pulled off the mid-teen stuff as well as being in university.

Modern casting, hmm. Wouldn't Rufus Sewell make an interesting Holmes? And I think Emma Watson would be cool as Russell.

Hannah said...

Ah! Okay. That book's now sounding far more promising! And I'll always appreciate a clever and resourceful Watson.

Thanks for commenting on your dream cast. I find it really interesting to know the actors people have in mind for book characters :)

Rufus Sewell as Holmes? To be honest I think I've only seen him in 'Amazing Grace' and 'The Illusionist' and it's been so long since I saw either of those films that I couldn't really say whether he'd make a great Holmes or not. I could definitely see Emma Watson as Mary Russell though and personally I'd love to see either Daniel Day Lewis or Ralph Fiennes as an older Sherlock Holmes.

Hamlette said...

Wait, you've never seen A Knight's Tale? Sewell is the baddie in it. Though Middlemarch might be more your thing, and he's one of my fave characters there. I get a huge kick out of him in Hercules too.

I could see Ralph Fiennes, or even Joseph Fiennes, as Holmes, but not so much DDL.

Hayden said...

hmmm...this post didn't come up on my feed, so I didn't see this review before now...

Anyway, though I do like this book very much, I'm not surprised when other people don't. Quite frankly, I've tried to convince myself to dislike it due to my Holmes purist self, but when all is said and done...I still like it. Go figure. I blame it on the banter between Russell and Holmes, which is, as you said, genuinely funny at times.

(That being said, the one thing I can't forgive in these books is how Watson gets neglected. I totally agree on that. Mary does come to like Watson, so that makes it a *little* better, but overall I think he should have been a bigger--and more competent--part.)

Hannah said...

Thanks, Hayden :) I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum to you in that I didn't much care for this book myself but can understand why others, like yourself, would enjoy it. I'd also be happy to see an adaptation of this book if they sorted out my main issue with this book by giving Watson a more prominent and competent role.