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The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first book in Laurie R. King's Mary Russell detective series. I had never heard of this series before someone selected it for their book club choice, but when I mentioned it to my mom (an avid mystery reader) she gushed about how good it was. That set the expectations pretty high for me, which I am happy to say they delivered.
The basic premise: Fifteen year-old Mary Russell is sent to live with her wicked Aunt after a car accident orphans here. One day she encounters the now retired Sherlock Holmes, who after immediately noticing her intelligence, instinct, tenacity, and spunkiness, decides that he will train her in detecting. This book takes the reader through the first 4-5 years of their relationship, culminating in a big mystery that could destroy them. (Cue ominous music here)
So what is so great about this book you may ask...Well, to start with - King has done an awesome job writing Sherlock Holmes. It had to be hard because I think most people already have a preconceived notion of who Sherlock Holmes is - a pompous, smart-ass, eccentric who just always gets it right. But King has really figured out what makes Holmes tick and brings those characteristics out while also acknowledging that Holmes has probably evolved since the end of Sir Conan Doyle's stories. There is a vulnerability and (dare I say) sexiness to Holmes (in a Rupert Giles kind of way)that I didn't expect, but feels right.
Of course this book is really about Mary Russell, and I dare say that Russell easily falls into my favorite spunky heroines (along with Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars). She's very smart and intuitive, but she has her flaws as well (can we say she is just a wee bit stubborn - a must for spunky heroines). Most importantly, her relationship with Holmes is totally natural. The dialog (as well as non-speaking dialog) between them really sparkles. It's easy to see how their relationship evolves throughout the book. King has done an excellent job of creating this new character of Mary Russell and fitting her in the world of Sherlock Holmes alongside its other iconic characters including Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, and even sinister Moriarty.
The other thing I really admired about this book was the structure. As I mentioned, this book covered several years. Because it covers so much time, there are several small mysteries or plots woven throughout the book, but in the end they all tie together. In many ways it reminded me (once again) of the show Veronica Mars. Everything has a place and you may not see how it all connects when you first see it, but you will in the end.
So to wrap this up - I very easily give this book 5 stars. More importantly I'm looking forward to reading the other books in this series.