The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Yet Another Successful Reinterpretation Of Sherlock Holmes

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Oh… Now I get it.  When Sherlock Holmes exclaims, “The game’s afoot!”– it’s a hunting metaphor.

I had always thought that when he said “game,” he was referring to some type of play or pass-time (yes, I prefer to spell it that way), something with dice or a board or a ball or something. That sort of “game.”  But reading Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I was enlightened.  Holmes is the hunter/stalker and the criminal is the “game.”  

I love these kind of “aha!” moments– even when they make me feel awfully silly for not seeing the obvious sooner.  Oh well, I can plead ignorance; I’m not a hunter.  Never killed anything bigger than a fly, I reckon.  Oops, I take that back… nothing bigger than a rat– and I don’t regret that bloody incident whatsoever.

I enjoyed the first half of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  It’s a nice, literate, calmly paced detective novel.  In that way, not so unlike the Conan Doyle originals. In fact, King’s interpretation of Sherlock is quite loyal to the original characterization. Even the things she adds to the myth seem completely in line… such as when she writes that Holmes hates goodbyes, or that he can be moved to act more “human” toward others by the “firm repetition” of a request that he stop acting like a jerk.

I was relieved to discover that King’s Holmes was basically “my” Holmes, because it is the personality of Sherlock which I love the most about the stories– an oeuvre I have read-thru or mostly read-thru at least three times in my life… so far. There’s a comic undertone running beneath all Sherlock’s hubristic and detached mannerisms. He treads the line of causing his readers to be as unsympathetic towards him as he can be towards others– but he manages not to cross it.  As large as his ego is, something about him remains endearing. I suppose he is helped by Watson’s sympathetic portrayal of him; Watson tends to excuse his friend’s behaviors or else chalk them up to the idiosyncracies of genius.  Interestingly, Sherlock’s anti-social behavior and obsession with the dark underbelly of human society means that he occupies a moral stratum not all that distanced from the sociopaths he hunts as “game”– a fact that was picked-up on and exploited beautifully by the BBC series “Sherlock.”

King said an interview given for her book that the impetus behind her novel (actually, a series of novels) was when she asked herself the question, “What would Sherlock Holmes look like if he were a woman? How would that cold, discerning mind change, and how would it remain the same?” The result was her own detective creation: Mary Russell.

There is a poignant extra layer added to King’s version of Sherlock, and that is that her Sherlock– who is now well into middle-age– could maybe possibly be… well… slipping.  King doesn’t delve very deeply into this possibility, but even just to hint at it provides a depressive, tectonic jolt– that the great mind of Sherlock Holmes– who is, indeed, nearly all mind– could be losing its edge. How terrible this would be for the man, himself, to even contemplate!   I don’t think it would be out of character for a Holmes diagnosed with dementia or worse to put an end to his own life … either quietly, or perhaps by taking a leap from Reichenbach Falls.

Unfortunately, I felt King’s book, itself, slipped in the second half.  I found the main mystery to be solved in the book not that interesting, and even the method of solving it– which in a good Sherlock story should be second only in importance to the exploration and display of the great man’s character– to be quite humdrum.

Additionally, I did not entirely approve of how badly the character of John Watson comes off in King’s book… He’s basically an idiot.  The original character of Watson is a loyal, brave, noble human being– a learned and skilled physician and former soldier– whom anyone would be lucky to count among their friends.  So I was saddened to see him so abused by King.

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