There are few things better than liking a book and a character so much that it borders on obsession. Ever since my cousin loaned me THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE, I've had dreams about Mary Russell and her world. And now that I've spent a little bit of time on Laurie R. King's website and read a little of her blog, I'm discovering that the author is as totally charming as her creation.
The Mary Russell novels are set in Post WWI England. A troubled teenaged orphan literally trips over a man while strolling in the countryside, her nose buried in a book. The man, it turns out, is the very real and semi-retired Sherlock Holmes, who, well into middle age, has become a pop culture myth in his own time created by (and in his opinion much maligned by) the too liberal pen of Arthur Conan Doyle. This chance meeting becomes the apprenticeship in the title, and eventually a partnership and eventually more.
I have always had a deep love for Holmes, whether in the books or on television. My love for Nancy Drew immediately led me to Holmes who led me to Agatha Christie and a subsequent passion for the classic detective novel in general-- the dusty, library detectives specifically. And King's Holmes is a masterpiece in his faded and sometimes ridiculous brilliance. He's a genius but emotionally stunted. He's callous and cold but also wounded and vulnerable. But he's got this sexy, Indiana Jones at 60-ish thing going on too.
But of course, it is Russell who becomes the iconic figure through King's series (I'm on Book 3). She ranks right up there with the Great Women of Fiction, in my opinion. I used to want to be Jane Eyre when I grew up, now I want to be Mary Russell (yes, I recognize that I am more than a decade older than either of these women at their literary height).
Russell is exceptionally smart and is an equal to Holmes almost immediately. But where he is coarse, she is gentle and emotionally intelligent. She, too, is wounded, but she is not scarred over (well, yes she is, physically). She's the tomboy, preferring her father's clothes to her own (for sentimental reasons as well) and the independent woman of the age of sufferage, even as a girl. She is a wit. And let's face it, the cover image on every book of the series paints her as sexy as hell.
King's writing is exceptionally rich and engaging, and perhaps most impressive is her brilliant command of the time period-- not just the history, but the social sentiment, the attitudes, the mores-- you feel as though you are in the hands of not just a fantastic writer, but a scholar. In addition, King brings her background in theology to bear through Russell's studies at Oxford.
Yes, I gush. But really, this is what you dream of (or at least I do) when you think about summer reading-- something that reads like a dream and leaves you smarter... and dreaming.