Sherlock Holmes is one of the coolest characters ever created. So much so that he continues to inspire creative interpretations. Laurie King may be the cleverest" re-imaginer" with her Mary Russell series. She preserves much of the original Holmes -- wonderful Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson, the Irregulars and "boltholes" in London -- as well as Sherlock in all his confounding insouciance and manic passions. But King introduces an older Holmes -- ostensibly "retired" from London and detecting adventures as he wiles away his time in Sussex with his bees and lab experiments. At 55, he is bored with life -- dangerously so. Then he meets his young neighbor, Mary Russell, in whom he recognizes a mind and wit that rivals his own.
King introduces her re-imagined Holmes and her brilliant creation Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice," the first in a series of a dozen mysteries that really should be read in order to appreciate the growth of her characters and their relationship. (And don't look ahead. Let the story unfold!) King is as sharp with her intriguing plots as she is with character development. She uses the volatile post-Great War era to build mysteries embedded in political intrigue set England, the Middle East, India and more. Mycroft has a bit to do with their adventures -- another Sherlockian delight.
When you exhaust the series (The Murder of Mary Russell is coming in April, 2016), enjoy the short stories and novellas King so kindly wrote to satiate her fans. Do read Beekeeping for Beginners (2011) that revisits how Sherlock and Mary Russell met. We know the moment from Mary's point of view in Beekeeper's Apprentice. She was walking across the fields, nose in a book, when she literally bumped into a man sprawled in the grass -- watching bees. She found him rude and worse, condescending. As they traded barbs, he warmed to her, but she held her reservations. In the novella, Beekeeping for Beginners, Holmes recalls this moment and how enchanted he was with this interesting child. He also reveals his mood that brought him to that spot, which makes their meeting all the more poignant.
King is more than Mary Russell's voice (a wonderful conceit she contrives in the first novel. You'll see!) King also writes gritty mysteries featuring a San Francisco detective named Kate Martinelli, who has her own series, as well as the Stuyvesant mysteries -- Touchstone (2007) and The Bones of Paris (2013.) King plays with familiar names and events -- prompting some googling as you go -- as she makes good use of rich settings; for example, The Bones of Paris is set in the fall of 1929 as Paris sizzles with artistic and intellectual debauchery.
King is the recipient of several Edgar Awards (for best in mystery writing) as well as other honors, including Beekeeper's Apprentice being in the top 100 most popular books. On the chance you have not discovered this author, or her intriguing characters, here's a push.
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.