Yes, I finally finished the ARC I’ve been sitting on for months. I’m SO glad I took the time to read The Language of Bees first, and I’m sorry I had to wait for my classwork to be done before I could devote the time I wanted to finishing this book.
Minor spoilers ahead, just to give you a fair warning. It is the 10th book in a series, after all, but I’ll do my best to not spoil the others.
When I started the book, I did so with some trepidation. As I pointed out in my other reviews of King’s Mary Russell novels, I find the subject matter more difficult when Holmes is not around. This book opened with Holmes traveling in one direction, Mary in another. That did not excite me. And then the book did something I did not expect: give entire chapters outside of Mary’s point of view.
It was strange at first, but after the villain of The Language of Bees was killed fairly early on by the new villain, I realized this was not a mystery novel, and should not be read with the same expectations of a mystery novel. Mary is still the main character; after all, these stories are told in the first person from her point of view. No one else was given first person voice. The novel shifted to many characters for third person limited, including the brothers Holmes, Lestrade, both villains, a few henchmen, and some other stragglers. I didn’t like it at first, but once I got into the meat of the story, I realized this was a story that deliberately put almost everything out in the open. Rather than asking the reader to sit in the backseat, it asked the reader to sit on their perch high above the action and watch the whole thing come together.
Mary’s arm of the story was more interesting that her usual affairs away from Holmes. With Estelle Adler, her step-granddaughter, and the pilot who had flown her to Scotland in The Language of Bees, she needs to find a way back to London asap. The urgency is heightened when rumors reached them that Mycroft was taken in for questioning and then disappeared. They stumble upon a Mr. Goodman, a slightly insane woodsman, who takes them in and helps them return to London safely. Their misadventures of getting back to London—and Mary having absolutely no idea what to do with a small child—made her story much more interesting. Holmes’s storyline was actually the least interesting of any of them. But then again, running to Holland to hide your fugitive and badly injured son isn’t all that interesting in reality.
This is a hard book to review without spoiling so much. Suffice it to say, the moment Holmes and Russell were in the scene together (for the last 70 pages of the book) the fun antics of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice were back. Some of the deductions were a bit far fetched for my personal tastes, but I was willing to suspend my belief. The wrap-up ultimately gave the desired satisfaction. I could see the end coming, but the means, and the significance of Mary’s actions, left me with a good sense of fulfillment.
My biggest criticism is that there was too much 3rd person away from Mary. Even stranger was the funeral scene in the middle of the novel (I will spare you whose funeral) which was 3rd person omniscient with the occasional slip into the view of a bird up in a tree. I’m not sure how I feel about that chapter. I’m not exactly sure why we weren’t down in Mary’s head for the funeral. These changes made for a different kind of story, but the crafting technique occasionally got a bit overdone.
Obviously, I would not recommend this as the first Mary Russell mystery you read. You really need to start with Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and plot continuity begs you to have read The Language of Bees as well. Otherwise, as long as you don’t mind small facts sneaking in from other adventures, it would be a fairly easy jump to make.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Conan Doyle’s The Greek Interpreter—the story in which we first meet Mycroft—got some interesting references throughout the novel, and I do believe the story needs some attention.