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Laurie R. King – The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

January 13, 2016

King, Laurie R - The Beekeeper's Apprentice - 40059. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1994)
Mary Russell, Book 1

Read By: Jenny Sterlin
Length: 13h 25min (369 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 23 August 2015
Finished: 05 September 2015

Where did it come from? Audible.
Why do I have it? I don’t remember where I first heard about the series, but Audible had it on sale, so I figured I’d take a chance.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 22 August 2015.

Being a girl means
Mary can see clues even
the great Sherlock can’t.

Summary: In 1915 the newly orphaned fifteen year old Mary Russell literally stumbles across the famous Sherlock Holmes as she is out walking on the Sussex Downs. Holmes has long since retired from the public eye to a quiet life in the country, but his mind is as sharp as ever, and in Mary he finds an equally quick intellect and clever determination, and he takes her on as his protégé, improprieties be damned. When he’s called upon to help rescue the kidnapped daughter of an American seminar, he brings Mary along, and she proves instrumental to helping him solve the case. But will Mary’s training – and her eventual studies at Oxford – be enough to help when Holmes is confronted with one of his cleverest and most dangerous opponents yet?

Review: I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and am somewhat disappointed that it’s over 20 years old and I’m only just getting to it now. On the other hand, I don’t know that I would have liked it quite so much 20 years ago, or even 10 – I’ve gotten much more conversant with Sherlockiana over the past few years, in part thanks to the BBC show, but also from finally reading some of Doyle’s stories themselves, as well as other takes on the great detective. (Not just the mouse version, which is about all of the background my 20-years-ago-self would have had.) So I was well-prepped to love this book, and love it I did.

Basically everything about this book was enjoyable. I love the concept, the setting, the post-World-War-I-ness of it all, the gender norms that come up about an old man taking on a young woman as a protégé and all of the situations they get in, the fact that Mary is smart and capable and still human, the rare times when Holmes lets down his guard enough that we can see the human in him too, it’s all just delightful. But that wouldn’t be enough to make the book if the mystery wasn’t good, which thankfully it is. This book initially felt rather episodic – a series of unconnected cases – although they do connect by the end of the book, albeit extremely loosely. But each case was good in and of itself – sometimes I figured out the clues before Mary (if usually not before Holmes), and sometimes they beat me to it, which was a very nice balance. Initially I wasn’t crazy about Jenny Sterlin’s narration (she sounds too old for a 15-year-old Mary), but I eventually came around to her as the voice of Mary looking back on her early adventures, and now I can’t imagine Mary with any other inflection. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Something in these books put me in mind of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books, although Mary’s older than Flavia, and they’re set a few decades earlier and with a wider scope. But as far as Sherlock fan-fiction goes, this was great fun, and I am looking forward to reading more in the series.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Jenny’s Books, A Striped Armchair, The Written World and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and I nearly stepped on him.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2016 4:05 am

    Oh I know that story :) I listened to it through BBC radio, it was a radio drama not a full book, but I liked it.

  2. January 14, 2016 7:43 am

    Like you, I really enjoyed this book! I have the second one on my shelves but haven’t read it yet. My review is at

  3. annettesbookspot permalink
    January 14, 2016 10:52 am

    i read Dreaming Spies, the new one, and it made me want to go back and read them all. Fortunately it worked well as a stand alone. Really enjoyed these characters. Flavia is my absolute favorite and I think the comparison is appropriate. Great review!

  4. Carol permalink
    January 17, 2016 8:31 pm

    I know how satisfying it is to find a great book that you didn’t get around to 20 years ago. I recently “discovered” Lois McMaster Bujold (also thanks to an Audible sale, and to Fyrefly and a host of Audible reviewers), and am savoring each one of her books–how did I not know about them all this time? “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” is by far the best of the Mary Russell books, although I also liked the second one (“Monstrous Regiment of Women”) and “The Game.”


  1. Laurie R. King – A Monstrous Regiment of Women | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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