rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is possible that my rating of 4 stars for this book is unfair. One of the criteria I use for assigning 5 stars is whether I will reread a book, and there is no question I will revisit this one. I will get my hardcover signed, and I will probably buy another copy in paperback, so I can keep my signed hardback safe. I will purchase it again in audio as soon as it is available on Audible.com. It is hard to give a higher endorsement to a book than being willing to pay money for it multiple times.
The problem is that this book is up against a very high bar. I’m comparing it to the rest of the Mary Russell books, and for my taste, this book ranks near the bottom of that select group.
For those that haven’t read this series: Mary Russell meets Sherlock Holmes when she is a teenager, and he is semi-retired. They discover their minds work in much the same way, and she apprentices with the Great Detective, while continuing to work towards attending Oxford, and then getting degrees in Theology and Chemistry. After she comes of age, their relationship develops into a partnership both personal and professional. (The books are much better than that summary would lead you to believe.)
The books that I like best in the series take me on a journey within Russell, where I can participate in her growth. This book was far more centered on the plot and the setting. (Others may not see this as a bad thing!) The premise of the book is that Holmes has a long lost son, who surfaces to ask for Holmes’ help in finding his wife and daughter. The search draws Russell in, due both to her relationship with Holmes, and the realization that her professional (theological) expertise is called for. The story delves into alternate forms of worship taken to extremes.
The book has the usual strengths of a Mary Russell novel: an interesting mystery, strong characters, and good writing.
“Mystery” might be the wrong word, perhaps “adventure” might be better, because it is clear who the “bad guy” is well before the end, the challenge is catching him before dire bad things happen. I like the balance between the more cerebral aspects of tracking down clues and completing patterns to establish the location of said villain, and the all out chasing across the UK in terrible weather and an airplane that is about to fall apart.
I indicated earlier I was disappointed not to see Russell growing in this novel, but that isn’t true. It just isn’t the emphasis of the book (although I can see the potential being set up for the next book in the series). Russell does respond to events in the book in ways that will change her, long term. We also get to know her better during the book, which I appreciate since she is one of my favorite characters in any book. We also get to see a different side of Holmes, one in keeping with the well-known detective– How would he respond to an adult son in danger? We get to find out. I also enjoyed seeing more of Mycroft Holmes, a recurring character, and liked the variety of people that appear briefly in the novel.
I always appreciate that the language in LRK’s novels doesn’t get in the way of the story, a pet peeve of mine. Too be honest, I was reading too quickly to get a sense of her language for most of the book. It just isn’t what I’m primarily interested in. I did notice something: The books are primarily in first person, from Russell’s point of view. In the previous book, LRK experimented with sections told from Holmes’ viewpoint, which worked because of what was happening in that novel, which made Russell an even more unreliable narrator than usual. This time, there is some information for the reader that Russell isn’t party to– so LRK gave us several chapters that consisted solely of conversations (I was able to find two on a quick look, there may be more). I found this an interesting change in the texture of the book as I was reading.
Would I recommend this book to someone that has read and enjoyed the other Mary Russell books? Absolutely. Would I recommend it as a starting point for the series? There isn’t anything you need to know from previous books for this one to make sense. You could easily pick it up and read. However, I’d suggest starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, since it is the first and best of the series, and it does set up the characters of Russell and Holmes. From there, you can decide if you want to read through the series in order, or skip forward to this book.