Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes’ pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.
There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be an apprentice.
While studying abroad I studied language and culture, of course, but I also took a ceramics class. The studio quickly became the center of my world. I would come in during free periods to trim pots and spent most Saturdays alongside Sensei, learning how to make bigger and more intricate things while talking about every subject under the sun.
Watching Sensei at the wheel was both inspiring and utterly humbling. He made bowls rise out clay as easily as he breathed, then thoughtfully added an imperfection that only accentuated the flawlessness of his craft. The two of us spent many an hour debating, musing, laughing, and working silently side by side.
When the end of my year arrived I may have begged the University to let Sensei hire an assistant. Someone to help him do all the menial work around the studio in exchange for a bed in the dorm and a chance to be close to his mastery. “Assistant” as far as the school was concerned, but “apprentice” to me. Needless to say the University would have none of it and after a tearful goodbye (on my part, not Sensei’s) I returned to my normal life, albeit with a sense of longing for what could have been.
…but what does that have to do with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice?
Mary Russell is a young girl with a sharp mind that happens to quite literally stumble upon the retired Sherlock Holmes one day. He is impressed with her powers of observation and deduction and the two embark on a friendship that turns into, yes, an apprenticeship. We watch Holmes teach and Russell grow through a series of ever more challenging cases until their partnership and very lives hang in the balance.
While reading I couldn’t help but thinking, this is what I wanted! To be under the wing of a master, to be challenged at every turn, and to eventually be recognized as proficient myself, all while getting to know Sensei better than anyone. The father/daughter affection Holmes and Russell come to share tugged at my heart and made me smile.
The cases themselves grow more complicated and interesting as the novel progresses and by the end I couldn’t put the book down. If you’re a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories there are easter eggs waiting for you (“Quite a three-piper, eh Holmes?”), but even if you’ve never read them you’ll enjoy what King sets before you.
All of the apprentice-y bits rang true, especially when filtered through my experience with Sensei. While any type of relationship, even a professional one, between a teenage girl and a man in his late 50s is ripe with squick possibilities not once did my Ick Alarm go off. I can’t wait to see where their adventures go from here, and thrill that at least 12 more books are waiting for me.