04 March 2008

Improbable upstart

In my continuing effort to bring reviews from the old ReadingOnTheWeb site to the new-fangled blog, I'm concentrating on my favorites.

Laurie R. King is one of my favorites. I wrote this after reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice back in August 2001.

When I read a review recently of a new mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes set in St. Paul, Minnesota and involving railroad magnate (Empire Builder) James J. Hill, I figured this Holmes stuff must be a trend. I had just finished a new post-Conan Doyle Holmes mystery myself and enjoyed it very much, thank you.

It's been a long time since I've read any Sherlock Holmes -- about 40 years.

When I was about 12 years old, I stayed at my great-uncle Clarence's home for a couple days. (He was a World War I veteran who belonged to the Fraternal Order of the Cooties, Minneapolis Pup Tent, in memory of those awful months in France.) He'd finished off an attic room and decorated it with books. One of them was Sherlock Holmes Detective Stories, which I devoured while a quiet guest. Uncle Clarence gave it to me when I went home. It's on my shelf right now.

The new Holmes mystery I read seemed to very much in the spirit of Conan Doyle's work. Maybe. Because all my Holmesian memories seem to come from Basil Rathbone movies, and the book is dead-on accurate to those images, phrases and accents. The book is one Nancy recommended, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King [at left].

If you've ever wished that Holmes would get a gentle comeuppance, here's the book for you. And who better to chastise that old know-it-all than Miss Mary Russell, a 15-year-old American orphan "whose mental acuity is equaled only by her audacity, tenacity, and penchant for trousers and cloth caps." (quoting the book jacket flack)

The plot revolves around the kidnapping of the daughter of a US Senator who was visiting London. Holmes is lured out of retirement and persuaded to take on a teen-aged, female assistant to help Scotland Yard solve the case. Of course, the kidnapping was only a ruse to get Holmes out of retirement and into the world, so he could be killed.

It's a fine story of Mary Russell's discoveries about her new life as a ward in England and Holmes' world of treachery and detection. By the end of the book, Mary Russell is a student at Oxford and ready to take a term off to help Holmes solve another case. That must be what King's next book featuring Russell and Holmes, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, is about.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice is great fun -- just keep imagining Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes sputtering in the face of a brilliant young woman. And then imagine what Dr. Watson is doing!

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