My book club just read the first Mary Russell book, the beginning of Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes pastiche. In Beekeeper's Apprentice young Mary meets old geezer Holmes (who is probably close to fifty years old) and astounds him with her brilliance so that he starts training her up to be a super detective like him. He enjoys this because he so rarely meets anyone as smart (or maybe smarter!) than he is, as she smugly notices. Of course, it helps to be the author's darling as well; if Mary ever disagrees with Holmes, we know the world will bend to make her right, and if she decides she doesn't need to worry about something, then by golly it was quite safe to disregard whatever that was.
I confess that I found Mary quite irritating this time around. I like the stories King tells (I think I'm current on whatever upteenth one she's on), but I do prefer the times we aren't in Mary's head. The books do a great job of invoking the period, as England suffers through the horrors of World War I and then the changes forced upon society afterward, but having to see this through a bright but utterly conceited adolescent is a bit trying.
I listened to most of it in my car, which is probably the root of my disgruntlement -- the voice for Mary sounded so smug and condescending to me. Then the library delivered me a hard copy, which I vastly prefer. Snarking back at Mary was getting a bit old; she's more tolerable inside my head, where her voice can sound a little self-mocking when she delivers foolishness. For example, in one paragraph she brags about eluding the guard the police set upon her, because she's sure that she'd be much better at guarding herself, and on the next page she admits that although she's sure she's being watched, she's spent so much of the past few days obliviously reading while walking places that she doesn't know for how long. In an earlier section, she wins a little girl's trust by promising not to lie to her like other rotten adults do, and then she fibs away for the rest of the conversation. And I don't really buy the final ending -- I'm not sure what their elaborate ruse had to do with anything; the timing was completely set by the sudden illness of their nemesis.
It's funny how much I've forgotten -- almost every bit of the plot, and even the existence of the final villain at the end, but I remembered clearly Mary's youthful assurance and the author's careful nurturing of that. Actually, that isn't strange at all, since I think it's reinforced in every book afterward. Reading it and looking for the hints of romance was interesting; I know that the first time I was desperately praying that they wouldn't get romantically involved; that was probably close to the original publication date (1994), and in my twenties I found the age gap between fifteen and fifty extremely creepy. Now in my forties I'm not so sure that decay has irrevocably set in by that point. Our group enjoyed this book, and many of us are going on to read more.