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26 January 2013

Guest review by Jan Bishop. Hardcover, published Allison & Busby 2012. (Also contains a novella after main book.)

Like Lyn, I’ve collected this series since it began with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, unhappily I’ve noticed that it has started sliding. The previous book, The Pirate King was still good but a bit weaker. This book is definitely weaker and if this had been the first one of Mary Russell I’d pass it on. As it is I like Mary and it’s a keeper. But if King slips further, I may not be keeping (or even buying) the next book. This book feels as if she’s got complacent, as in “the readers like Mary and will buy anything with her so I don’t have to make a real effort to have a solid plot plus I can use the very weary literary device of amnesia and they won’t mind.” Well, I did mind. I didn’t find the background as interesting as usual either. It read more as if the author had read several books about the period and people and had simply info-dumped.

And the other device, that of having a small boy with (apparently) elective mutism involved as an active conspirator I found rather twee. “Let’s add a disabled child, that’ll get readers.” The only thing it got me was annoyed. The kid is too clearly another plot device, I found the sudden revelation at the end that he’s related to another character (out of the blue, with no preparation, and why, if he has a relative who has a good job and influential friends, hasn’t the child been seen by doctor/s who may be able to say if his mutism is elective or something physical?) The initial part of the story, that of Mary waking to find herself in bed in a strange house, unable to remember who she is, or how she came there, and fleeing into the streets to escape she knows not what, is well, average. I mean, amnesia? Please! It all turns out to be political, but in a perfunctory way. The French Governor (a major character in the book and an actual person of his time in real life) is dropped into the plot as a distant relation of Holmes. One never mentioned in previous books although they’ve apparently met on a number of occasions before. Nor does their interaction feel genuine. In short, this book was a disappointment to me although Lyn liked it slightly better. As for me, I’ll look very hard at the next in the series before I spend my money on it.

What was a good thing about this volume, was the novella included at the end. Beekeeping for Beginners takes place during the events of the first book in the series. It is narrated by Sherlock himself, is well up to quality, believable, with an excellent background, and an engrossing plot. It is available as a standalone e-read in a number of venues and since in my opinion it’s the best part of this entire volume, you might prefer to buy it and skip the main book. This novella I can wholeheartedly recommend as I can’t do with Garment of Shadows..



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