Monday, March 18, 2013

Beekeeper's Apprentice

Bias alert:  I love this author, and love the Mary Russell series!   

Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first of the series, and so we meet the very young Mary -- orphaned in tragic circumstances, an brilliant and curious mind, a lonely soul longing to soar, stuck under the guardianship of a horrid aunt -- and the retired Sherlock Holmes, ostensibly keeping his bees in the countryside.  And off we go, on the wild adventures of a very unlikely duo.

There are just so many aspects of the story to savor.  The most obvious, of course, is getting a fresh look at the legendary Holmes, and hearing more of his pursuits.  This book is set in wartime, beginning nearly a century ago -- WWI (as is a future selection this club will discuss, Sandcastle Girls) -- but here, the Great War is occurring offstage. 

Mary is a fascinating character.  She is damaged by the horror that befell her family; she is young and gawky.  Yet, she is set on advancing academically; her goals do not include the expectation of marriage; she has little interest in the social conventions of the wealthy (cf. "Downton Abbey").   Whatever else troubles Mary, at her core she has no doubt that she is as worthy as any man.  And, by accident, she stumbles across the person who will change her life, and make her a partner in a world she never dreamed was a possibility.

Let our book club adventure begin!


  1. I enjoyed this book a lot. I admired Mary's strength, her resolve, and her capacity to find the humour in even the most difficult situations. Her wit was a good match to that of Holmes.

    One of the first things that I appreciated about the book was Mary's refusal to give her horrible aunt more attention than she deserved. Clearly the author's choice, but in Mary's voice, we heard such maturity when she said as little as possible about her aunt and then let it go.

    It was a good reminder of how important it is not to give the annoying and troubling people in our lives "free rent" in our minds. Given all she had been through, it is especially admirable that Mary felt no need to scramble after her aunt's affection.

  2. That's a great point about "rent in our heads," Sue.

    Considering that Russell and Holmes are so cerebral, there are some interesting discussions of emotional reactions. I like the passage where Mary is talking to little Jessica about her strong feelings after the kidnapping -- that it is OK to be angry; that it is possible to be happy even if you are angry about the bad thing that happened. (Interesting that the mother -- who obviously deeply loves the child -- was trying to tell her how to feel. I'm of the opinion that we own our own feelings; others might require certain behavior, but they cannot control what is inside us.)

    Another example: the huge let-down and melancholy after the kidnapping case was solved. Sound familiar?

    Oh, and Mary's difficulty with her role, when she and Holmes fabricate the public rift to throw their tormenter off the track -- how she falls into the thinking of that character; how Holmes' behavior stings even though they are acting.

  3. Capacity for humor -- I like that, too, Sue. So true. Not that Mary and Holmes sit around cracking jokes, but there is a delicious twinkle of absurdity in many if not most of the scenes.

    By contrast, the police officers are generally portrayed as somewhat dim-witted and humorless. There is the Sussex inspector, who keeps the innkeeper from her kitchen half the day after her place was robbed, and then finds nothing of consequence, berating the locals for wasting his time. There is the Welsh police chief, who made the mistake of calling Holmes' needs mere "requests" and acting distraught that the girl detective showed up with him -- I love the picture of the costumed Holmes explaining what must happen if he is to be on the case. Back in London, the more sophisticated Scotland Yard is still too slow, and too bound in its protocols, to be of great use.

    All very entertaining!

  4. What about that moment when Mary steps outside her immediate job, spying on the hostage house in Wales -- she sees the way to rescue young Jessica from the house, right now -- and she seizes that moment?

    I certainly have not done much (anything) that was so physically challenging and fraught with immediate danger. But don't we all have those moments we seize, sometimes, despite the challenges?

  5. Definitely. It was one of those moments when you think "This is either going to be a complete success or a complete fiasco." When there is no safe middle ground on which to land it raises the stakes - and the adrenaline!

  6. Well. Pook. I bought the 5/22 book and not this one. I guess I should pay closer attention. I'm bummed because this looks good.

  7. Miranda, get the book and read it! You will not regret, promise.

  8. So sorry for the lack of chiming in--I am drowning here in Passover prep and job application and progress reports and....and...
    BUT, I truly loved this book, and this series. LOVE that the protagonist is a smart, witty, female with Jewish roots and theological knowledge. SUCH a cool counterpoint and partner for Holmes.

    Will hopefully be able to chime in a bit later....

    --Neighbor Lady

  9. Apologies here too. I'm up to my ear lobes in Lent/Easter prep and the gathering of celebration for my friend who died last week.

    I'll check back later. Sorry!!! I have so much to say about this book and not enough time.

  10. I found the book at my local library and I'm reading this book today. Taxes can wait, right?

  11. I love this book. Thank you so much for recommending it! However, I'm not able to discuss much while breaking in the new job. I really loved the interaction between our heroine and the kidnap victim she rescued.

    1. I love that part, too -- Mary suddenly realized that she could use her own terrible trauma to help someone else. To anticipate little Jessica's feelings, and let Jessie be OK with having those bad feelings but also having better ones alongside. This is really good trauma therapy. And it is also true to how we sometimes bond with others during a time of crisis.

    2. I loved that interaction too. I think even in her child-like way of understanding the world, Jessica knew that Mary had taken a huge risk to save her. You can imagine the powerful bond that would create. That bond was strengthened by the talk the two shared back at Jessica's home.

      Did anyone else find it adorable that the girl's name was Jessica Simpson? I'm not sure why, but that made me smile.

    3. No, I didn't really notice the name! -- but it has to be a coincidence. The performer of that name wasn't known until after this book was published.

  12. I'm hoping to get this book at the library Wednesday and read it, even if I'm too late to chime in on the discussion.

    AND, I just finished a fantastic book that I will heartily recommend when we need to add to our list.

  13. more bee news:

  14. Btw, since we all liked this book, I'd like to recommend: the Dr. Thorndyke series by R. Austin Freeman; the Thinking Machine by Jacques Futrelle; Max Careados, Blind Detective by Ernest Bramah; Simon Carnegie, Gentleman Burglar by Guy Boothby; and Goodnight Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas.

    Alternatively, look for the old PBS series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

  15. Hi book-club pixies!

    I see by the calendar that we should be starting another book tomorrow. The next on the schedule is "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and I will be facilitating.

    Shall we go ahead with that, or leave this thread open for another week. I adored this book but ended up being too busy to say much about it.


  16. Ok - question answered elsewhere. Let's proceed with "Wild"!!!

    I'll have the post up later today.

  17. Thanks for the suggestions, Liz!

    If anybody wants a fun read -- Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple.


What do you think?