(By Tom Gauld)

It might have been a matter of timing, or the way I experience the Sherlock Holmes canon, it might even be all Jeremy Brett’s fault. Or even Hugh Laurie’s. The fact is: I didn’t really like The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

My three major reasons:

Mary

It’s been a long time since I come across such a Mary Sue. Her gifts just keep piling up at an incredible speed from the first moment we (and Holmes) meet her. I got the feeling that King simply chose a favorite literary crush and then projected her wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Just for fun, I’ve made a list of the things Mary excels at: beauty, wealth yet knowing the value of money, being loved by everyone almost instantly, slenderness, chess-playing, intelligence (lots of stuff included here: chemistry, maths, theology, etc), good memory, attention to detail, intuition, courage, appeasing ravenous dogs, disguises, running, climbing, aiming and throwing, tarot reading, juggling, card and magic tricks, accents and languages, following a trail, child psychology, post-traumatic stress disorder, nice hair, healing (changing gauze, applying poultices, knowing what to do in general), driving, puzzles and encryptions.

She’s also meant to be a feminist fighting adversity, but she’s never faced with the barriers you’d expect a woman detective at the beginning of the 20th century would experience. She’s an orphan with an evil step-mother aunt, but she has amazing freedom. She goes to college, where she’s taught by a great woman mathematician and quickly becomes surrounded by supportive friends. Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft accept her immediately and even when Lestrade dismisses her as a silly little joke, he’s awed by her mental skills five seconds later. The captain of the boat she and Holmes take (un-chaperoned) to Jerusalem doesn’t even blink when Holmes introduces her as his “partner”.

A perfect Mary-Sue already has a lot of annoyance-potential, but one who flounces said perfection around and treats others in a patronizing way becomes downright unlikable. Her condescension of Watson in particular made me cringe.

Watson

Right from the start Mary refers to Watson as “Uncle John”, putting him is his right place as the affectionate, goofy companion which Holmes tolerated for want of someone better. Holmes at times also slashes at their friendship. Six examples:

Mary: Yet another example of the man’s [Watson’s] obtuseness, this inability to know a gem unless it be set in gaudy gold.

Holmes: I work alone. I always have. Even when Watson was with me, he functioned purely as another pair of hands, not in anything resembling partnership.

Mary on the phone with Watson: And Uncle, you must not mention this call to anyone, do you understand? (…) You are not terribly good at dissimulation, I know, but is terribly important.

Mary: [Watson was] not gifted with the ability to lie, and thus could not be trusted to act a part. For the first time I became aware of how that knowledge must have pained him, how saddened he must have been over the years at his failure, as he would have seen it, his inability to serve his friend save by unwittingly being manipulated by Holmes’ clever mind.

Mary: Holmes, you told me nothing, you’ve consulted with me not at all, just pushed me here and there and run roughshod over any plans I might have had and kept me in the dark, as if I were Watson(…).

And the worst one, by Holmes himself, while talking to Mary:
I do occasionally take the thoughts of others into account, you know. Particularly yours. I have to admit that you were completely justified in your protest. You are an adult, and by your very nature I was quite wrong to treat you as if you were Watson. I apologise.

This disregard for Dr. Watson is especially hurtful because, more than your typical sidekick, he’s also a great audience surrogate. He is us, the readers. He’s as awed and humbled as we are by Holmes’ intelligence. He asks the questions we want to ask and if he wasn’t there we’d have no idea what Holmes was doing.

In this book Watson is portrayed as mentally-feeble, but according to Conan Doyle he’s a capable and brave doctor and soldier, whom Holmes trusts above all and does not hesitate to call upon for both moral and physical support. Holmes often praises him for his intelligence and resourcefulness.

Throughout the original books both men become very close, but in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Holmes even forgets (!!) to warn Watson when a killer is out to get anyone he’s close with. On another occasion, Mary lies to Watson “to protect him” and mentions how this is also a common practice for Holmes. Now, Holmes often doesn’t tell Watson about his plans but I cannot remember one instance in which he willfully lied to him (maybe you can?).

Sherlock

Although readers love Sherlock, he’s not supposed to be a “friendly” character. He’s a manipulative, arrogant, gynophobic, cocaine-addict, manic-depressive sociopath. We the “normal people” are as attracted to his brilliant mind as bunnies to head-lights. This also makes him one of the most difficult literary characters to write fan-fic about.

I did not see the original Holmes in King’s version. Here he becomes just another cozy-mystery detective, toned-down and similar to so many others.

A final side note to say that although I’m perfectly fine with romances with an age gap, I had problems with the 38 years difference here. Just couldn’t accept it as naturally as everyone else seems to. Why such a big gap? Was it really necessary for the plot?

There, I’ve finished my rant. I’m now ready to dodge the rotten tomatoes.

***

Other thoughts: The Written WordMy Reading BooksBook Bath, Steph and Tony Investigate, things mean a lot (yours?)

Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 4: Bees/Honey

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