The Language of Bees

language of beesI read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first of Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery novels, in 1995. I remember it fondly: I was in graduate school at the time, and working at a bookstore, and the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, had just come out on the shelves. Paul, one of my co-workers, handed me the paperback of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

“You’ll like this,” he said. “It’s about a smart girl.” Oh Paul, how you knew me! I tumbled into the world of the fifteen-year-old Mary and her mentor, Holmes, as they learned to work together, trust each other, and battle a diabolically intelligent enemy. I was hooked, completely delighted by Laurie King’s prose, research, narrative voice, and perhaps most of all what Paul pointed out: the way she allows Mary to be as intelligent as the intimidating Holmes, and also a whole person with fears, humor, friendships, weaknesses and strengths. In the light of these novels, Holmes too reveals new sides of his character, and the apparent mismatch becomes the perfect partnership.

language-of-bees2The Language of Bees is the ninth in the Mary Russell series, and I am delighted to say that the books have only gotten better. This one opens as the exhausted couple returns from a year packed with adventures, including those told in Justice Hall, The Game, and Locked Rooms. (One of the nice things about this particular volume is that it settles the chronology of events a little more satisfactorily.) Mary and Holmes are looking forward to a rest after their travel, but before they can even settle down to eat dinner, they find a new client on their patio, asking for assistance.

Or maybe not precisely new. Mary and Holmes have met Damian Adler once before, just after the War, when he was accused (and exonerated) of murder. Now he’s appeared again, asking their help in a desperate search for his wife and child. The search leads them into strange territory: a bizarre religious cult, the neolithic sites of Britain, the shadowy world of Bohemian London, and even the streets of Shanghai. Stranger still is that Holmes may be protecting the suspect, for reasons of his own, leaving Mary in a darker place than she’s been in any of their previous investigations.

This installment in the Russell-Holmes mysteries was wonderful. It was thrillingly suspenseful — I hardly wanted to put it down — yet it was so deliciously well-written, revealing so much about the characters, that I hardly wanted it to end. It’s made me want to undertake a re-read of all nine of the books (though when that will happen I don’t know; I don’t seem to be doing much re-reading these days.) And the ending, which I won’t say another word about, is simultaneously maddening and perfect. It edges onto some territory that will be familiar for faithful readers: King often writes about odd corners of the religious world, and of course that is one of Russell’s areas of expertise. But none of it feels like a retread. On the contrary, everything, including the developing relationship between Russell and Holmes, feels fresh and fascinating. If you are not already a fan of Laurie King’s, I can only feel envious at the treat you have in store. If you are, then this is a little gift-wrapped gem for your collection. Either way, hie you to a bookstore or library and start The Language of Bees on your way home.

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7 Responses to The Language of Bees

  1. Teresa says:

    I treated myself to a copy a few weeks ago but haven’t started it yet. Every time a new Russell book comes out I fear that *this* will be the one where the series starts to show its age, and I’m so glad to hear that it still hasn’t happened. This one sounds just delicious!

  2. adevotedreader says:

    I’ve been saving this for a rainy day, hoping it will be a wonderful continuation of a wonderful series. I’m accordingly relieved to hear you sing its praises. I’ll have to move it up the TBR pile!

  3. Rebecca Reid says:

    I just read the first one and I liked it! I’m not itching to go out and read more — I’m not really in to mysteries — but I do love Mary Russell!

    The one thing that bothered me was the fact that Mary Russell ends up marrying Holmes. There’s something about the age difference that makes me shudder. Does that bother you at all in the subsequent volumes?

  4. Steph says:

    Ok, I really need to get around to reading these, especially given how much I love a mystery! I even own the first book in the series and everything! Your review has made me all the more antsy to do so… I keep holding off because I feel this compulsion to read all of Sherlock Holmes before I tackle these. Is that crazy/unnecessary?

  5. Jenny says:

    Teresa — of course, some books in the series are more my favorites than others, but I think the series as a whole just gets better and better. I think you’ll be delighted with this one.

    Devotedreader — yes, move it up! It was such a pleasure.

    Rebecca — I haven’t read many mysteries lately (they used to be almost all I read, lo these many moons ago) but I never miss a King mystery. She’s great. As for the age difference — honestly, it has never bothered me. King paints the relationship as a partnership of minds that otherwise could never find a true partner. They are unsuited in every obvious way: Mary is young, yes, but also female, American, Jewish… yet their trust and understanding is unimpaired. The meeting of two prickly and difficult intelligences is the joy of the series, to me.

    Steph — Great question! I have seen the series appeal to serious Holmes fanatics, to people who have never read any Holmes at all, and to people who are moderately familiar with the Holmes canon (me). Reading all of the canon is unnecessary. King does salt her work with references to it that are fun to get, but are optional. So enjoy!

  6. Danielle says:

    I’ve only read the first two of this series, but I do love Mary Russell’s character. Your post makes me want to go and dig out the third book and get on with things. I love the cover of the other edition (UK edition?)–almost more than the US illustration. Actually definitely more. It’s impressive that Laurie King has managed to sustain such an interesting and surprising mystery series. So often the books will sometimes be uneven, but hers always seem to be good!

  7. Sarah says:

    I LOVE the Mary Russell series, in fact I’m rereading it for the third time right now. I’m in the midst of buying them all now so that I can get to the Language of Bees, but Barnes and Noble must have something against O Jerusalem, and I can’t find King’s books anywhere else. Oh and Steph, to add to what Jenny said before, reading the original mysteries are absolutely unnecessary, but it really does enhance the reading, because you get more of the little inside jokes and such, especially, I’m assuming, in this latest book, as it is based off one such mystery. I’ve just bought The Game and reread it, and now I feel the itching need to go out and buy Kim! = )

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