I don't have a lot of experience with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. I have read The Hound of the Baskervilles and found I enjoyed Holmes's famous deductive reasoning. I had wondered if a novel's worth of it might wear thin, but I don't recall it doing so. So I was curious about Laurie King's interpretation of him and finally got around to reading the first in her successful series of mysteries featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Although my reading was a bit on the uneven side (a third of the way through I was ready to give up), I was happy that I continued reading the book, as I found it very enjoyable in the end and already have dug out the next book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, though I won't start it right away.
The Beekeeper's Apprentice introduces Mary Russell and joins the pair in what will become a very successful partnership--both intellectually and from what I understand romantically as well. The novel begins in 1915. Mary is only 15 and living with her aunt in Sussex, both parents and younger brother having been killed in an automobile accident. I thought it was interesting that Mary is half American as well as Jewish. She's unhappily living with her aunt, her only living relative. Upon turning 21 Mary is due to inherit quite a lot of money, but until then her aunt is essentially living off Mary's fortune. Needless to say their relationship is anything but amicable.
Mary is a bright and studious young woman, and one day out walking (nose in book--Virgil no less), she literally stumbles upon the famous, but now retired Sherlock Holmes (who happens to be observing bees). Although initially their meeting is a bit on the tart side--two intellectuals butting heads, it's not long before they become friends and Mary begins a sort of apprenticeship with Holmes. Eventually she'll be accepted at Oxford where she'll study Theology and will also become entangled in various mysteries assisting Holmes.
As this is a first novel, there's a fair amount of time spent setting up the relationship between Mary and Holmes and filling out their histories. King does an excellent job revealing and building upon these details, but what caught me up was the jump into the mystery solving aspect of the story. Although it was an organic and necessary jump, it felt like individual stories tied together and I found myself getting distracted. However, the second half of the book does concern itself with only one problem to solve and it caught my attention again until the end. There were some wonderful little twists and turns, and Mary handles herself wonderfully. By the end she's no longer a student only, but an equal partner. Solving the mystery will take them from London all the way to Palestine and back again. All in all this turned out to be a wonderful read.
In this book Mary and Holmes have a very platonic relationship--first as teacher and student and later as friends and equals intellectually. I know in future books there will be a romantic element to their relationship, which I have to admit makes me a bit squeamish (he is 39 years her elder). I guess I'll worry about that when I get to it. As long as the mystery side of the novels is stressed over the romantic side, it shouldn't bother me too much. In any case I'm hooked now, so I have to keep going.
This has made me want to go on a mystery reading binge. I do have my next book lined up, but I am waiting for it to come in the mail (Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith--though it is more crime/thriller than traditional mystery), so in the interim I'm working on Rhys Bowen's Murphy's Law. This is another first book in a series of mysteries set in turn-of-the-century New York. The heroine, Molly Murphy, is a sharp, plucky Irishwoman. So far it seems like another promising and addictive mystery series.