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.)