I stumbled across this series when hurriedly purchasing a book for a lengthy train journey recently. The title, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, caught my eye as I have long harboured ambitions of owning my own hive- but this is a side note and not a sensible hobby for someone who currently lives in a small flat with no garden to speak of.
The books are narrated by Mary Russell, an orphaned heiress who stumbles across the retired Sherlock Holmes when out reading one day on the Sussex downs. Quickly proving that she can match the detective wit for wit and has a tongue as sharp, if not sharper than his own, they become firm friends and he slowly begins to involve Mary in his cases where she finds herself a more capable version of Dr Watson. This unusual partnership is soon tested when nineteen year old Mary finds them locked in a battle of wits with a deadly enemy, as Holmes, Mary and Watson become the targets of assassination attempts.
As a fan of the original Conan Doyle stories, I freely admit that I did not expect to enjoy this novel as much as I did, but the books are absolutely fantastic, constructed by a master. The author writes with an assured style and dry humour in the vein of the original stories, but cunningly allows herself to embellish upon the original oeuvre by having characters exclaim that they thought Sherlock was a fictional character, and having the great man himself lament Watson’s romantic sensibilities.
As soon as I was able I went to my local bookshop and ordered all the other books in the Alison & Busby series, including a copy to give to my father, and as soon as I got them home proceeded to devour them.
As soon as I did however, I noticed a big problem, albeit not the fault of the book shop or author. There are ten books currently published in the Mary Russell series, with an eleventh due in September this year, but if you look at the series page in the Alison & Busby books it appears that the series jumps from book one to book seven in the series. For some bizarre reason, A&B only appear to have bought the publication rights to some of the series, meaning that books two to six are published by other publishers. This in itself isn’t a problem, but it does mean that unless you know this beforehand (which you can’t reasonably be expected to) you end up reading the books out of sequence and encountering some major spoilers.
I will not share these with you here, but be warned ready for your own foray into these books. This hasn’t affected my enjoyment of the novels so far, though I am reading The Language of Bees at the moment and there is a character who may well ruin an earlier book for me when I go back to two to five… we shall see.
Go out and find them- in the correct order is preferrable they really are too good to miss.