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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-553-80454-6

Hooray! Another Laurie King Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novel! This was some of the best and most entertaining reading I’ve done all year. And in what has to be (I think) a first for this series, we get a “to be continued” at the end of the book, when we realize that the villain has escaped alive, and will undoubtedly return for a second round.

In this truly original take on the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, we learn that Holmes has a son, now grown, hidden from his knowledge all these years by Irene Adler, the boy's mother, and the one woman that Holmes truly admired back in the original canonic tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She also appears to be the only woman and one of the few adults, period, that proved herself to be Holmes’ intellectual equal as well, besting him in the battle of wits between them, and successfully keeping his parentage a secret from him.

Of course, we are supposed to believe that Holmes was particularly vulnerable in this particular area, misogynist that he was. That is the one (and only, in my view) serious flaw in Laurie King’s hypothesis, that Holmes would not merely treat as an equal, but actually marry a young woman 20 years his junior, which is the primary premise of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series of novels. King makes it believable enough when it happens, and I don’t find that it stretches my innate sense of disbelief when I’m actually reading her stories, only when I sit back at a distance (like now) does it seem rather unlikely.

But back to the story: Holmes’ son is naturally more than a little bitter towards his father. When he finally decides to let Holmes into his life, it is on a fairly limited basis, and only on his own terms.

But very quickly Homes and Russell become involved initially in the disappearance of their new daughter-in-law, and eventually of the son and granddaughter as well. They are apparently (or not so apparently, at least so far as Scotland Yard is concerned) caught up in a somewhat bizarre religion which involves blood sacrifices in or on various of the mystically sacred spaces around Great Britain, ancient collections of standing stones and the like.

All told, it leads to a dramatic finale, with Russell flying in horrific weather to the far north of Britain, risking her life and that of her pilot, to try and reach a specific location where she suspects another ritual death may be planned, perhaps even the death of Holmes' young granddaughter.

Some people have complained that since changing publishers, King has been pressured to up her page counts, and that as a consequence, her recent books have been too long, even plodding, at times. To that I can only say, pshaw! Who cares? To me, the longer, the better. I'm still a rabid fan, devouring every page with pleasure. Just give me more! Highly recommended.

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