Oh, the audacity of Laurie King.
In only her second novel, The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994), she had the nerve to tinker with one of the greatest legends in all of mystery fiction. The beekeeper in question was Sherlock Holmes, a greying, but no less acute and acerbic man in his mid-fifties retired to a country cottage on the Sussex Downs ca. 1915 to raise bees, under the watchful eye of his faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson.
His apprentice-to-be was a 15-year-old orphan from a neighboring cottage who was about to enter Oxford University. This precocious youth was independent, analytical, fiercely intelligent—and female. Her name was Mary Russell. Holmes, along with King's soon-to-be-legion of readers were pleased, if astonished, to recognize an intellect as fine, prickly, and impatient as Holmes' own, and the young woman was glad to rise to the challenge of his tutelage.
Over the course of King's popular mystery series, Russell and Holmes (as they always refer to each other, comrade-style) have become not only best friends and partners in wit and detection, they are plausibly married as well. That Russell embodies the generation of "new" women rising phoenix-like out of the ashes of the war-ravaged Old World adds another subtle layering to the delicate balance of their relationship as they strive for common ground and equal footing.
Many of their adventures have been dark, indeed. But in her new novel, Pirate King, the eleventh outing in the series, King combines the usual scholarship, travelogue, feminism and skullduggery readers have come to expect with swashbuckling on the high seas and a healthy dose of absurdist hilarity. The combination is just about irresistible! Fans can get a sneak preview when Laurie reads from her new novel this Thursday (September 8) at Capitola Book Cafe, 7:30 pm.
(Above: UK paperback cover for The Beekeeper's Apprentice, looking very Erte!.)