Sherlock Holmes, contentedly retired to Sussex to keep bees (which Giddygeek and JanetCarter assure me is canon), meets his intellectual match in Mary Russell, the wealthy orphaned teenager up the road. They fight crime!
One of you lovely people (sorry, I forget who) recommended this for our 8th grade summer reading list a couple of years ago. I added it on the strength of the recommendation and a few reviews, but decided this year I should probably read it if I wanted to justify keeping it around, especially as it’s one of the few non-YA novels on the list and I didn’t want any phone calls.
The most inappropriate thing that happens, you’ll be relieved to know, is that Mary and Holmes spend time together unchaperoned. (This Edwardian/WWI-era setting is a fascinating one as a tipping point for technology and social mores — the Victorian Holmes, who finds it safest if he thinks of Mary as a young man, and Mary, accustomed to running about in trousers and attending Oxford in the absence of most of the male students.) The prose will be challenging for most middle schoolers, but Mary is the kind of strong, independent, clever young heroine who might pull adolescent readers through the tough bits. (If they are at all like I was… er, still am… these adolescent readers will also be all aflutter about Holmes and Mary’s not-quite-romantic relationship. It’s not creepy, I swear.)
I am not a mystery fan, a Holmes nut, or an aficionado of the era (though I’m rapidly becoming one), but I loved absolutely everything about this book. King adds further depth to Holmes while remaining solidly grounded in Conan Doyle’s canon, and his verbal and intellectual sparring with Mary is wonderful. I had to work to keep up with Holmes’ and Mary’s deductions and references, but enough was always explained that I never felt stupid or left out, despite having, of course, a vastly inferior intellect.
Spoiler alert: Don’t google the author or the series! You will learn a thing you don’t want to know yet. Just trust me that it’s the beginning of a very long series, the second is called A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and I will be checking it out from the library just as soon as it opens tomorrow. I believe my spring break will be spent in post-WWI England.