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The Language of Bees (Mary Russell Novels) Hardcover – April 28, 2009

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Book Description
In a case that will push their relationship to the breaking point, Mary Russell must help reverse the greatest failure of her legendary husband’s storied past—a painful and personal defeat that still has the power to sting…this time fatally.

For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve--the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives.

But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from her husband’s past. Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the promising surrealist painter had been charged with--and exonerated from--murder. Now the talented and troubled young man was enlisting their help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child.

When it comes to communal behavior, Russell has often observed that there are many kinds of madness. And before this case yields its shattering solution, she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them. From suicides at Stonehenge to a bizarre religious cult, from the demimonde of the Café Royal at the heart of Bohemian London to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Russell will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced--a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart.

Amazon Exclusive: Laurie R. King on The Language of Bees

As a writer, I court serendipity.

Another way to say that would be, as a writer, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

In a stand-alone novel it doesn’t much matter that I pursue my plot-line in a dark attic with a failing flashlight, because in the early drafts I simply put everything down, then spend the rewrite peeling away whatever makes no sense or isn’t absolutely necessary. And when I’m finished with the novel, I’m finished--with the book and with the characters.

A series novel is a different animal. What I wrote in 1993, I have to live with in 2008, even if I no longer have the faintest idea what I had in mind back then. Sometimes this creates ridiculously convoluted problems, and I spend hours and hours paging through to find what color someone’s eyes were or if I credited them with a certain skill, and I end up wishing I could just recall all copies of the earlier book and make people forget about that line on page 238. Other times, well, I’d like to take credit for being such a genius planner, but as I said, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

However, some deep, distant, well-hidden part of my brain does, and when that Organizing Principle takes charge, things turn out in interesting ways.

Take my newest book, The Language of Bees. This, the ninth Russell and Holmes novel, is set in the summer of 1924, and its central character (apart from the series regulars) is a young Surrealist artist by the name of Damian Adler. And for those readers who are up on their Conan Doyle, yes, it’s THAT Adler.

Back in 1994, I wrote a book called A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in the series. In one scene, Russell is trying to get away from Holmes for a while so she can think about her future without him looking over her shoulder. When a friend conveniently presents her with a drug-addled fiancé in need of assistance, Russell seizes the opportunity to shove the young man’s problems onto Holmes and send them both away. One of the weapons she uses to force Holmes into agreement is a reference to his long lost son:

“And if he were your son? Would you not want someone to try?” It was a dirty blow, low and unscrupulous and quite unforgivably wicked. Because, you see, he did have a son once, and someone had tried.

And this is pretty much the only appearance of this mythic entity, the son, despite queries and entreaties and speculations from readers. I could not even have said for certain why I inflicted the master detective with paternity, other than Russell’s need for a weapon strong enough to bully Holmes into obedience, combined with the feeling that this drug-addled young officer needed to have a deeper meaning for Holmes than just a nursing job.

But the Organizing Principle in the back of my mind knew why he was there.

The “lovely, lost son” was glimpsed in Monstrous Regiment so that fourteen years later, I could sit down to write The Language of Bees and craft a situation as significant for Holmes as the psychic trauma of the previous book had been for Russell. Locked Rooms forced Russell to confront a past she had hidden from herself. The Language of Bees gives Holmes a second chance to know the son he had lost.

(I should, perhaps, mention that this idea of Holmes having a son by Irene Adler--“The woman”--is not mine alone. W. S. Baring Gould, whose definitive biography of the master detective was recently updated by Leslie Klinger in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, suggested the presence of a son. The boy, under the name Nero Wolfe, himself became a rather well-known detective.)

As soon as my mind dangled the idea of Holmes’ son returning, a world of possibilities blossomed: Where had the young man been? (perhaps... Shanghai?) Why come back now? (A wife disappeared, and a murder, and--what about a child!) And since one of the Conan Doyle stories refers to the art in Holmes’ blood (his grandmother’s brother was the artist Vernet) and since Irene Adler was an opera singer, why not make the son an artist--one of the Surrealists, just to put a twist in his relationship with the ultra-rational Holmes?

I’d like to say I had all this in mind back in 1995 when I had Mary Russell drop mention of Holmes’ son, but I prefer to save fiction for my novels.

And as I said at the beginning, as a writer, I court serendipity. I may not know what I’m doing, but it makes for a more exciting journey, getting there. --Laurie R. King

(Photo © Seth Affoumado)

From Publishers Weekly

Readers will learn a lot about bee-keeping in bestseller King's sometimes lively, sometimes plodding ninth Mary Russell novel (after Locked Rooms), though the focus is on Sherlock Holmes's estranged artist son, Damien Adler, who pays an unexpected visit to Holmes and Mary Russell, Holmes's wife, in Sussex. Damien, a drug-addled derelict who was arrested for his drug dealer's murder several years back, soon becomes a suspect in more recent deaths. He enlists his father's aid in searching for his missing wife and daughter, while Mary undertakes her own quest into Damien's questionable past. Incognito, she finds her way to Damien's shabby Bohemian London home and to the Children of Light, a Druidic-style cult whose disturbing book Testimony, illustrated by Damien, is quoted at the start of each chapter. While the detective's shrewdly observant brother, Mycroft, and other Doyle regulars appear, fans of the original Holmes stories should be prepared for a strong feminist slant. (Apr. 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Mary Russell Novels
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553804545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553804546
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

New York Times bestselling crime writer Laurie R. King writes both series and standalone novels.

In the Mary Russell series (first entry: The Beekeeper's Apprentice), fifteen-year-old Russell meets Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs in 1915, becoming his apprentice, then his partner. The series follows their amiably contentious partnership into the 1920s as they challenge each other to ever greater feats of detection.

The Kate Martinelli series, starting with A Grave Talent, concerns a San Francisco homicide inspector, her SFPD partner, and her life partner. In the course of the series, Kate encounters a female Rembrandt, a modern-day Holy Fool, two difficult teenagers, a manifestation of the goddess Kali and an eighty-year-old manuscript concerning'Sherlock Holmes.

King also has written stand-alone novels--the historical thriller Touchstone, A Darker Place, two loosely linked novels'Folly and Keeping Watch--and a science fiction novel, Califia's Daughters, under the pseudonym Leigh Richards.

King grew up reading her way through libraries like a termite through balsa before going on to become a mother, builder, world traveler, and theologian.

She has now settled into a genteel life of crime, back in her native northern California. She has a secondary residence in cyberspace, where she enjoys meeting readers in her Virtual Book Club and on her blog.

King has won the Edgar and Creasey awards (for A Grave Talent), the Nero (for A Monstrous Regiment of Women) and the MacCavity (for Folly); her nominations include the Agatha, the Orange, the Barry, and two more Edgars. She was also given an honorary doctorate from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Check out King's website,, and follow the links to her blog and Virtual Book Club, featuring monthly discussions of her work, with regular visits from the author herself. And for regular LRK updates, follow the link to sign up for her email newsletter.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On the one hand, it was gratifying to find that our heroine Mary Russell has returned to her old smart, formidable self and partnership with Sherlock Holmes, after that maudlin, but probably necessary, detour in San Francisco in "Locked Rooms." And the introduction of Damian Adler, the surrealist painter, suggests new and interesting possibilities ahead for the series.

On the other hand, after slogging through this overly long and drawn out tale, it was a definite downer to come in for a landing at page 442, only to find:

"to be continued..."

Alas, I don't think I'm going to be up for yet another several hundred pages about the case of the religious nutcase. As villains go, he's just not all that interesting or, to my mind, sequel-worthy.

Some years ago, not long after she changed publishers, I heard Laurie King tell a book fair audience that Bantam was pushing her to up her page counts. And she's certainly done that. It seems to me her novels are getting more and more bogged down in beautifully written, but frequently irrelevant, detail and description that disrupts the pace and doesn't advance the plot. Weary of what reads to me as padding, (the plot here doesn't begin to kick in till page 159), I'm thinking that maybe, instead of ordering her next book at the first announcement of a pub date, as I've always done before, I'll just hang back and wait to see what the page count and reviews here tell me. Meantime I think I'll revisit some of the old 300-pagers like "Beekeeper's Apprentice" and "The Moor" that once made me such a huge Mary Russell/Laurie King fan.

ADDENDA MARCH 1, 2010: Great news, King fans!!!
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Paige Morgan on April 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I got very little done today, because I was far too busy devouring the latest installment of Holmes' and Russell's adventures. Laurie R. King, after developing Mary Russell's past and vulnerabilities (and strength!) in _Locked Rooms_, undertakes a similar sort of character development for Holmes himself.

I'm almost surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I'm not a Holmes purist, but even to me, this seemed like a risky gambit -- it has so much potential to change his character ... but I should not have been worried. What King accomplishes makes the character of Sherlock Holmes more richly complex, and in the course of doing so, provides a chilling mystery, of a different sort than has been featured in the earlier volumes of the series.

If I'm vague, it's only that I'm trying to avoid spoilers. In this volume, readers are treated to more Mycroft (a treat!), Russell solving a different sort of mystery than usual, and a case involving an Aleister Crowleyesque cult. I felt as though there was a more meditative cast to parts of the book, which is to say that readers see Russell musing over human error, and forgiveness, and the ability to move past human error, and loneliness, a little more than in earlier entries of the series. But the book isn't dominated by these musings -- they are skillfully woven into the action.

I was satisfied by the ending, despite the fact that the last words are "to be continued...". Sometimes novels that end with cliffhangers feel like half-books that were only published accidentally. _The Language of Bees_ is unquestionably a whole book, and one that I will no doubt read again, while waiting for the sequel. I only wish I knew when the sequel was due to be published!
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Even though The Language of Bees came out at the over-full end of the semester, I fell into it instantly, neglecting piles of blue books and papers. At first, I was in ecstasy -- posting non-spoiler updates on Facebook and burbling to friends at morning coffee -- but I got quieter as pages turned and the narrative gave me more and more about less and less. I've always admired King's ability to bring together disparate topics and, rather like the metaphysical poets, to yoke them into a new reality. Here, she certainly laid out the material for another great work, but that unifying alchemy was missing.

Bee-keeping, standing stones, Aleister Crowley, French painters, an eclipse, and Holmes' son ~ how could this add up to anything other than the Philosopher's Stone?

Dunno, folks, but it didn't achieve critical mass.

I found very interesting the remarks of another reviewer who said that King's publisher was pushing for a higher page count. Well, if that's true, I don't see why it should obviate the possibility of an even better book. Look at the first in this series, The Bee-Keeper's Apprentice. It had the action and resolutions of several novels packed into one cover: fabulous. In many ways, the book is its mirror image: few plots, none resolved. "To be continued" is a total cheat. Unlike the 19th-century novels that came out in serial form, this wait will be not weeks, but years. And I don't think anyone is going to go down to the docks, al la The Old Curiosity Shop, for the next installment of this story.

For me, introducing the references to Crowley without following through was close to criminal.
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