Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell Series
So I’ve been having a very mystery-centric few weeks. First, there were the Cormoran Strike books, chosen because my Nantucket book club decided on The Cuckoo’s Calling as its February read.
At the same time, I got The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King out of the library. And, at about the same time, there was a massive blizzard, cutting me off from the outside world entirely (not to mention cutting me off from “luxuries” like heat, power, and cell service) and leaving me no choice but to submerge myself in the land of mystery with these two books.
(It must be duly noted that having two snow days off from work with nothing to do but snuggle under a blanket with my dog and some good books was no true hardship!)
While the Cormoran Strike books are textbook contemporary mystery, during the blizzard I made the happy discovery that Laurie King’s Mary Russell series is more stereotypically-Corey-ish reading, the kind that features an independent, whip-smart, wildly anachronistic young woman who solves crimes in England in the late Victorian, Edwardian, or otherwise pre-WWII era. Unsurprisingly, as a result, I loved The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.
In this particular series, beyond the independent/anachronistic young woman (Mary Russell), there is an additional bonus in the identity of the titular beekeeper: Sherlock Holmes, in these books presented as a real person thoroughly perturbed at being fictionalized (ineptly, as far as King’s Holmes is concerned, and regrettably aided by a classically incompetent Watson) by Arthur Conan Doyle.
While the addition of such a famous character may seem a bit fanfiction-y, I hasten to assure prospective readers that it really is more fun and less hagiographic than you might expect. Mary herself is the focus of the books, although Holmes’ presence along with cameos from Watson, Mycroft, and Lestrade certainly enliven the proceedings.
Beekeeper introduces the universe, watches as Mary grows from a stubborn 14-year-old to a university woman, and involves Holmes at almost every turn. The mystery in Beekeeper is a very slow-build, so slothlike, in fact, that you almost don’t realize it has been building for most of the book, but still deeply engaging. King also liberally scatters the story with mini-mysteries throughout to keep you jogging along.
In Regiment, however, Holmes is a bit more peripheral, although still integral, and the plot centers on a cultish female religious leader and a series of murders surrounding her “Temple.” It’s a less interesting mystery and King wastes pages and pages in transcribing the leader’s sermons and lectures. (Not to mention pages and pages of Mary not knowing what she wants from her a life. This is a familiar enough conundrum and one which does not need quite so much spelling out.)
At this point, I’m personally pretty mystery-ed out, but eventually I look forward to continuing on to the third book (A Letter of Mary), which drags another favorite topic of mine (archaeology) into the mix. I have high hopes for a return to the spark of Beekeeper!