Beekeeping for Beginners

Many of you probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell mysteries. I try to get every Russell book as soon as it comes out, and I’ve loved every one of them. And right now, there’s a feast of Russell fun going on, what with the release of the 11th book, The Pirate King, this fall and the recent publication of this e-novella, Beekeeping for Beginners.

This long story—or short novella—takes readers back to the beginning of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’s relationship, but this time, we hear Holmes’s version of the events. A couple of first-person chapters get right into his head, and we learn that Russell entered his life at just the right time. We also find out what Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson thought of Holmes’s new apprentice, and we discover that a mystery occurred right under Russell’s nose (or really, behind her back). As it turns out, Holmes came into her life at just the right time, too.

Laurie King took a huge risk when she first created a young female apprentice (and eventual love interest) for Sherlock Holmes back in 1994, but she won over many of Holmes’s fans and piqued other readers’ interest in the great detective. (I was never a Holmes fan myself, and I’m still more familiar with King’s Holmes than with Conan Doyle’s.) Taking on Holmes’s point of view and revamping her own characters’ back stories is even riskier. Mostly, King pulls it off.

If I were to question anything, it would be the very first revelation about what was on Holmes’s mind when the novella opens. Because I know the character primarily through King—and some of his character as I know it can be attributed to Mary’s influence—I can’t speak to how out of character these opening moments are. Certainly, it seems that Holmes could be prone to despair when he doesn’t feel useful or active, and his retirement to Sussex could exacerbate those feelings. But fans might think she went a step too far here. I don’t have a strong opinion, but I was surprised.

As for the revision of Russell’s own history that comes in this story, I thought it worked nicely. None of it, in fact, was much of a surprise, given what we know about the characters. King has taken advantage of some of the gaps in her episodic first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, to insert a new plot in a way that doesn’t directly contradict anything Russell shared in her own version of events.  If I had a copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I’d take a look and see just how seamless it is.

My guess is that Beekeeping for Beginners is partially intended to be a quick way for new readers to meet the characters before the next book is published. As someone already in love with these characters, I enjoyed it very much, but I’m not sure how well it would go over with people who aren’t already fans of the series. The story is clever, but most of its cleverness is in how tidily it fits into what we already know. It’s not nearly as exciting and doesn’t have the depth of King’s full-length novels; those are a better introduction. (And even among her full-length novels, her first Russell book doesn’t show her at her best.)

The e-novella also includes a sort of silly Twitter interview with Mary Russell, and more important to fans, it includes the first couple of chapters of The Pirate King. So if you can’t wait to get a taste of that book, this e-book might be worth the 99 cents for that alone.

Beekeeping for Beginners is only available as an e-book. Laurie R. King’s website has more information, including links to several sites that are selling the e-book. (I couldn’t find it by searching, so I definitely recommend using the links from her site.)

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22 Responses to Beekeeping for Beginners

  1. litlove says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this series – I have the first three books now and will make in roads very soon!

    • Teresa says:

      Wonderful! I will warn you that the first is not as good as the others, but the second is terrific. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think!

  2. nymeth says:

    This is a nice reminder that I really should return to this series. I’ve been reading other period mysteries lately (by Carola Dunn and Catriona McPherson) and I find myself thinking, “why am I not reading more Mary Russell books instead?” They’re so much better.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, why aren’t you? ;-) I’ve started making a habit of recommending them to people who express dissatisfaction with other period mysteries because they are better.

  3. Lisa says:

    I’m also a big fan of her Kate Martinelli series, and the semi-stand alone Folly, which I think is her best book (a tough call to make). I recently read her Califia’s Daughters, published under the name Leigh Richards, and I’d love to see that story continued as well.

    • Teresa says:

      I gave up on the Martinelli books halfway through the first one because I was annoyed at her coyness about Lee. Now that I’ve read all her others (except Califia’s Daughters) and liked them all, I must go back and give Martinelli another try.

  4. Eva says:

    I saw you mention this on Twitter and ran over to get it for my Nook! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to lend Nook to my mom today so she can read it. I didn’t realise it included a new plot: now I’m extra curious. :D

    (And like you, I’m not terribly attached to Doyle’s Holmes…I wonder how ‘real’ Holmesians react to this series. I know there’s no way I’d read a modern book using Jane Austen’s characters, lol.)

    • Teresa says:

      I can’t wait to hear what you think!

      I understand that Holmesians’ views vary, but many of them have embraced the books. I feel the same as you about Austen’s characters, though. I tried a few chapters of several sequels years ago, and was thoroughly put off.

  5. JoAnn says:

    Laurie R. King will be a speaker this season at the lecture series my book club attends. I’ve never read her. Should I start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice?

    • Teresa says:

      I think starting from the beginning is the best way to go because it’s fun to see how the relationship starts and watch the characters develop. However, the Beekeeper’s Apprentice isn’t her best, and I’ve known several people who didn’t get hooked until the second book (A Monstrous Regiment of Women). Most of the books work okay as mysteries on their own, although there are a couple that should be read in sequence. (Don’t read Justice Hall unless you’ve read O Jerusalem, and don’t read God of the Hive without reading The Language of Bees.)

  6. Harriet says:

    I’ve never heard of these books but they do sound good. Thanks.

  7. Steph says:

    I didn’t know that there was a new book in the series out! Then again, I’m still only on book four for my first read-through, so I’m not exactly at a loss when it comes to new Mary Russell books to read! It is good to know that the series continues to be solid enjoyment, even so many books in; it’s so easy for these things to lose their steam! This post was a reminder to me that I need to revisit Russell and Holmes very soon… it’s been too long since I last went adventuring with them!

    • Teresa says:

      Yep! The next novel is coming in September, and I think there’ll be another next year. With every book, I’ve expected a drop in quality, but they’ve been remarkably consistent.

  8. Kathy says:

    I loved it! In fact I had to go back and read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice because I loved it so much. It think it flowed very well with the original story and I loved Sherlock forcing her cousin to enlist!

    • Teresa says:

      Beekeeper’s Apprentice is one of the only ones I don’t own; otherwise, I would have gone back and at least skimmed, especially to see the bits about her aunt. I’m glad to hear that the two flowed well together–I suspected as much!

  9. Emily says:

    This was a pleasant little Mary Russell fix for me as well (I actually don’t have an e-reader and was compelled to read it on my partner’s old first-generation iPhone: something I NEVER would have thought I’d do!). The Pirate King chapters really piqued my interest; I’m looking forward to much Gilbert & Sullivan-based hilarity and intrigue. And lucky you, you got an advance copy, right? David & I are super attached to the audiobook experience of these, so I didn’t try for a print version, but we’re eagerly awaiting the September release date & the Laurie King reading in our area. :-)

    • Teresa says:

      I only skimmed the first chapter of Pirate King because I knew I’d get sucked in and have to read the whole thing (which I did receive just a few days ago). It looks like great fun, but I’m trying to wait until closer to the release date.

      I’m so hoping she comes to the DC area this year. The last two times she came here, I was in on holiday England, so I didn’t get to go. (Not that I’m complaining about my English holidays, but I’d be really annoyed if she doesn’t come here in a year when I’m not going to England!)

  10. sakura says:

    I’ve read the first 3 or 4 books in the series but it’s been a few years. I think the next one on my list is The Moor. I really enjoyed them and thought they were done really well considering she encroaching upon an industry with a million zealous fans!

    • Teresa says:

      I’m amazed at how many of the Holmes fans seem to embrace her. It’s quite an achievement.

      The Moor is not among my favorites. It’s the only one where I thought my lack of Holmes knowledge was a hindrance. (I’d read Hound of the Baskervilles years ago but forgotten almost everything about it, and The Moor is a sequel of sorts.) But after that is O Jerusalem, which is one of my very favorites, possibly in the top three (with Letter of Mary and God of the Hive).

  11. Kailana says:

    I really need to get back to the series. I read the first one last year, I believe, and haven’t moved on. There is just too many series nowadays and not enough time to get to everything!

    • Teresa says:

      I know exactly what you mean about too many series to follow. I’m trying to avoid starting new ones. This one, the Jackson Brodie books, and the Morland Dynasty are the only ones I’m following as they come out these days. Any others are low priorities.

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