January 11, 2009


I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan for 45 years. I still have The Complete Sherlock Holmes, although not that 1930 edition. Same cover, though. I can quote some of the dialogue from memory.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I listened to other folks who suggested I give Laurie King's Mary Russell books a try. The thesis is that Holmes only went into semi-retirement in Sussex and that he and a young woman built a friendship which evolved into the two of them detecting. That sounded really unlikely to me, but I finally tried them.

They're a treat. When we first meet Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice she's a sixteen-year-old girl spending time at the house she'll eventually inherit in Sussex, where Holmes has "retired" to keep bees. She and he meet on a hilltop and the saga begins. Holmes becomes a mentor to the youngster, and soon enough they have a case to solve.

The thing that impresses me is that, unlike some other attempts to resurrect detectives (see Robert Goldsborough and Nero Wolfe), King has managed to get the flavor of Holmes and his times so close to the original. The dialogue, which I think is the hardest part, is dead-on, at least to my ear. Holmes isn't stuffy or arch, Mary is a smart-ass but not rude, and even the secondary characters ring true.

I've read the first four, am on the fifth, and am concerned that the author won't write more fast enough. I may then have to jump to Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler books.

Posted by Linkmeister at January 11, 2009 10:39 AM | TrackBack

Hmmm. Sounds intriguing. Every time I've been tempted to read a Holmes pastiche like this I wind up just going back to Conan Doyle. But on your say-so, I'm in. I just put the first two on reserve at the library.

Somebody tried to do Wolfe????

Posted by: Lance Mannion at January 13, 2009 08:05 PM

Tried seven times. I've read two. He didn't get Archie or Wolfe right, at least not for me.

Posted by: Linkmeister at January 13, 2009 08:18 PM

I saw the same recommendation you did (Making Light, right?) and have read the first two and started the second. I've really enjoyed them.

Somewhere, I have a copy of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes, although it may have vanished in a move. I've always floated on the edge of the Irregulars, never quite joined.

All that said, (SPOILER ALERT), Mary makes reference to Holmes's son at one point. I remember WS Baring Gould positing that Nero Wolfe is Holmes's son by Irene Adler, but not any other reference to children. What obvious thing have I missed? (END SPOILER)

PS - I'm posting from work. My home computer still hates you. Also highclearing.com, so you're in good company. I do get your feed in my Google Reader, so I get the first sentence or two of all your posts.

Posted by: Juli Thompson at January 14, 2009 04:36 AM

Hmm. I missed that reference.

In The Moor Baring-Gould's ancestor makes an appearance.

Posted by: Linkmeister at January 14, 2009 07:40 AM

It's when they're discussing the drug addicted young man, and the comment is to the effect that Holmes had a son who died young because no one took care of him.

The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould? That would be William S's grandfather. He was a truly eccentric Victorian character. He was a brililant linguistic scholar who married a local girl who was so far beneath him socially that it was a "known fact" that they were the model for Shaw's "Pygmalion." He was so absent minded he often didn't recognise his own children, and wrote several well known hymns. He was also very influential in collecting folk songs, and the folk talkes of his neighborhood.

I haven't gotten to the Moor yet. I'm still at the beginning of A Letter of Mary.

Posted by: Juli Thompson at January 14, 2009 12:06 PM