By Laurie King
A book review by Don Meyer
A most fascinating book. The apprentice is a tall, gangly 15 year old girl named Mary Russell. She is quite bright. Her parents have died, and she has been sent to Sussex, England, to live with her aunt. The beekeeper is -- well, we will find out momentarily.
As the story begins, Mary is walking along the Sussex Downs, with her nose in a book, when she nearly steps on an individual who is sitting on the ground. Startled, she says, “What on earth are you doing? Lying in wait for someone?”
And he responds,” I should think that I can hardly be accused of ‘lying’ anywhere as I am seated openly on an uncluttered hillside minding my own business.” They exchange words, and again she asks him him what he is doing. He says that he is watching bees. (Ah, this must be the beekeeper.) She sits on the ground, and sure enough, she sees bees flitting around, though at first she doesn’t see anything particularly noteworthy. But then she sees what appears to be an ordinary honeybee with a small red spot on its back. And she see other bees with a red spot, and some with blue spots. But the spots do not look natural, but as if someone has marked the bees with paint. Mary says to him, “I’d say the blue spots are a better bet, if you’re trying for another hive.” He responds, “How do you come to know of my interests?” Mary says, “I should have thought it obvious. I see paint on your pocket handkerchief and traces on your fingers where you wiped it away. The only reason to mark bees that I can think of is to enable one to follow them to their hive.” And she goes a bit more about what she has seen, and what it likely means. “My God,” he says, “ it can think!”
Mary takes that as an insult, and retorts, “My God, it can recognize another human being when it’s hit over the head with one.” Then slowly but surely Mary realizes that the rumors she has heard are true, and that this is none other than the famous -- Sherlock Holmes in semi-retirement. One of the great minds of his generation! She is appalled at her own behavior, and expects him to dismiss her out of hand. Because Mary is dressed in pants and wears a large cap, Holmes thinks she is a boy. “Young man ...” he starts to say, and she is insulted! Again! She whips off her cap, and her long blonde braids come cascading down. Holmes is initially startled, and then bursts into laughter at his mistake. And he takes an immediate liking to her.
Holmes invites Mary to tea, and asks Mary to tell him about herself. She starts to say something, but then changes her mind and says to Holmes, “You tell me about me.” He agrees, provided that Mary then tell him about him. That exchange is particularly enjoyable. Mrs. Hudson (yes, she is in the story) says to Mary to please come again because “...there’s more life in him than “I’ve seen for a good many months.”
So began Mary’s long association with Mr. Sherlock Holmes. She comes to visit regularly, and he shows her his experiments, takes her on long walks where he points out many different things, and they visit neighboring farmers to whom he introduces her. At the beginning she does not realize it, but Holmes is teaching her about detection. They become good close friends, and Mary’s intellect blossoms under Holmes‘ tutelage. Ultimately she helps Holmes solve a few crimes, the last of which is a real thriller.
It turns out that this is the first in a series of Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes stories that Laurie King has written, and I look forward to reading them all.
Funny signs --
On a Plumber's truck:
"We repair what your husband fixed."
On another Plumber's truck:
"Don't sleep with a drip. Call your plumber."
On a Church's billboard:
"7 days without God makes one weak."
Next post on Monday morning.