A review of Laurie R. King’s ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ prelude


The poll is now CLOSED. Leading the vote, tied, were The Hunger Games and the Anita Blake series. So I’ll be doing both hopefully, after I have finished this book. I’m giving myself a break between huge series of supernatural books and sci-fi distopia, I’ll be looking at Laurie R. King’s ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’.

Let’s look at the blurb, shall we?

1915. The great detective Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honey bees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical and recently orphaned, Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes – and match him wit for wit.

Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protegee and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. In their first case together, they must track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter and confront a truly cunning adversary – a bomber who has set trip-wires for the sleuths and who will stop at nothing to end their partnership.

In pain yet?

If you thought Fifty Shades of Grey was an abomination, welcome to the world of Mary Russell. This is published fan-fiction and it is even worse than that knock-off Twilight bullshit. This is ripping off good fiction.

The book starts with an editor’s preface, using the whole ‘stumbled upon an old manuscript and thought it’d be a fucking good idea to publish it’ trope for added realism.

Even a novelist’s fevered imagination has its limits, and mine would reach those limits long before it came up with the farfetched idea of Sherlock Holmes taking on a smart-mouthed, half-American, fifteen-year-old feminist sidekick.

ouch right in my Conan Doyle feeellllsss…. author, if you’re admitting what a stupid fucking idea your premise is on the first page, you ain’t going to endear me to your book.

If even Conan Doyle hungered to shove Holmes off a tall cliff, surely a young female of obvious intelligence would have brained the detective on first sight.

…. is your character a homicidal maniac? Why would she immediately decide to kill Sherlock Holmes, it makes no sense.

Anyway, the author regales us with the story of how one day UPS dropped off a mysterious package. She hacked and hacked away at the cardboard box and ruins a knife (really? Package tape ruins a fucking knife?) She opens it up and finds newspaper clippings and a pile of manuscripts and immediately assumes it’s a bomb. Of course. It must be a fucking bomb. Instead of phoning the police, she decides it must be safe when the cat climbs inside. We then get a huge list of random shit that’s in the package.

some articles of clothing, including the beaded velvet evening cloak (with a slit near the hem), a drab and disreputable man’s bathrobe or dressing gown, and a breathtaking gossamer wool-and-silk embroidered Kashmiri shawl; a cracked magnifying lens; two bits of tinted glass that could only be a pair of peculiarly thick and horribly uncomfortable contact lenses; a length of fabric that a friend later identified as a unwrapped turban; a magnificent emerald necklace, a weight of gold and sparkle that rode my throat like wealth personified until I unhooked it and carried it inside to thrust beneath my pillow; a man’s emerald stick-pin; an empty matchbox; one carved ivory chopstick; one of those English railway timetable books called ABC for the year 1923 –

AGATHA CHRISTIE STRIKES AGAIN

– three odd stones; a thick two-inch bolt rusted onto its nut; a small wooden box, ornate with carving and inlay depicting palm trees and jungle animals; a slim, gold leaf, red letter King James News Testament, bound in white leather that had gone limp with use; a monocle on a black silk ribbon; a box of newspaper clippings, some of which seemed to deal with crimes committed; and an assortment of other odds and ends that had been pushed in around the edges of the trunk.

This is where you can tell that King has not been properly edited or fucking vetted and that her writing skills leave much to be desired. That was an entire page devoted to a list. No doubt it increased her wordcount to meet her target, but since when is an entire page of a list interesting to anyone to read? Name one or two items, not a great page, and certainly don’t run off twenty items and then say ‘oh there were so many i couldn’t say them all!’. It’s a wonder there’s anything else to describe after that huge weight of words.

Anyway, King has been sent a load of manuscripts. She has no idea who sent them, other than someone at UPS saying it was a young man who paid cash. Who sent away ridiculously expensive emeralds. Of course. She sets about rewriting them (because she has thus far displayed she is a fantastic writer) and publishing them, because she can’t sell the necklace for money, oh ho ho!

I don’t know why she can’t sell the necklace. Probably because it seems ridiculous someone would just send a stranger something like that.

We then get a preluding author’s note, from one Mary Russell, who starts by saying that ‘age is not always a desirable state’ and that her memory is starting to go.

The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories.

Uh, no. You see, Mary, there’s this recently developed academic field. It’s called ‘history’ and it’s devoted to preserving the past. People who study history, like me, are moved by the images of the past and would argue that most of the twentieth century has not been forgotten. I would also argue that there is no limit to the power of events, that it is perfectly logical for someone living now to look back and feel the effect of tragedy that happened to people thousands of years ago and far removed. We can still be moved by the Titanic or the tragedy of Pompeii. So, to conclude:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do not remember when I first realised that the flesh-and-blood Sherlock Holmes I knew so well was to the rest of the world merely a figment of an out-of-work medical doctor’s powerful imagination.

Remember this quote. It’ll hurt later I expect.

And now, men and women are writing actual novels about Holmes, plucking him up and setting him down in bizarre situations, putting impossible words into his mouth, and obscuring the legend still further.

Pointing this out and leaning on the fourth wall doesn’t make you a funny or witty writer. It makes me think you have no belief in the construct you are presenting me.

Why, it would not even surprise me to find my own memories classified as fiction, myself relegated to cloud-cuckoo-land. Now there is a delicious irony.

HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAno.

These readers may find places at which my account differs from the words of Holmes’ previous biographer, Dr Watson, and will very probably take offence at my presentation of the man as being someone totally different from the ‘real’ Holmes of Watson’s writings.

This means ‘I have changed parts of the story to better suit the drivel I have churned out for the sake of money’. She tells us that Holmes was in fact much, much younger than he was presented in Conan Doyle’s novels. What a noob at fanfiction. She has to change details of the original books just to make her stories work.

My portraits of him would still be strikingly different from those painted by the good Dr Watson. Watson always saw his friend Holmes from a position of inferiority, and his perspective was always shaped by this. […] He was born an innocent, slightly slow to see the obvious (to put it politely), although he did come to possess a not inconsiderable wisdom and humanity.

Fuck you.

I have two main issues with this book and this is the first one: Watson is regulated to being the heart of the team. King hates Watson for some unknown reason and doesn’t understand the character. She ignores the fact he was in a position of rank in the army and that he was a fucking doctor which takes some fucking intelligence to just make him a stupid man that Holmes took in, like some stray, for the sake of his ego. King has no understanding of the original books and I would bet you all my savings that she has never read a single Sherlock Holmes story. Her knowledge appears to be derided from popular culture and movies.

I, on the other hand, came into the world fighting, could manipulate my iron-faced Scots nurse by the time I was three, and had lost any innocence and wisdom I once may have had by the time I hit puberty.

Here’s the second main issue. I smell a pretty big Mary Sue here.

Holmes and I were a match from the beginning. He towered over me in experience, but never did his abilities of observation and analysis awe me as they did Watson. My own eyes and mind functioned in precisely the same way. It was familiar territory.

Mary and Holmes are exactly the same. They are a perfect match for each other. Mary was just the person Holmes needed, not Watson. This is a classic trait of a Mary Sue.

This prelude is signed ‘M.R.H.’. I think this means, to my disgust, that she ends up marrying him.

This is going to be a long and painful read.

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