The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Buy the Book:
Bookshop Santa Cruz
Poisoned Pen Books
Barnes & Noble
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Series: Russell & Holmes #1
Published by: Picador
Release Date: 1994
Pages: 368


The Beekeeper's Apprentice turns 30 in 2024, and we'll celebrate in all kinds of ways. Contests, library talks, book club meet-ups (virtual and live) and—events! Four day-long Russell & Holmes events during the year, in Santa Cruz, Seattle, Bethesda, and Nashville. Talks, demonstrations, games, and all things Russellian. Details and registration here.



The first in the beloved Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series, chosen as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association and as an Outstanding Book for the College Bound by the American Library Association, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice has continued to beguile readers of all ages and backgrounds.

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.   

In this first of the “Russell Memoirs,” young Mary encounters a retired Sherlock Holmes during the first year of the Great War, and impresses him enough that, reluctantly, he takes her on as his apprentice. It takes a great deal of adjustment—on both sides.

He said nothing. Very sarcastically.

But Russell, as he comes to call her, matures into an Oxford undergraduate with her own strengths and interests—

I crawled into my books and pulled the pages up over my head.   

—until danger comes out of nowhere, and threatens their partnership, and their very lives.

Discussion Guide

Download an informative and illustrated discussion guide for The Beekeeper's Apprentice here

Classroom Study Guide

Spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, and supplemental reference materials for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, with a teachers’ packet, here.


One of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century

"The interplay between Russell and Holmes as their relationship evolves over the course of the novel’s four years from mentor and student to something much more complex is entirely credible, and the climactic events are dramatic indeed: 'It burst upon us like a storm, it beat at us and flung us about and threatened our lives, our sanity, and the surprisingly fragile thing that existed between Holmes and myself.'
"That may sound like hyperbole, but just wait till you get there."
—Neil Nyren, CrimeReads

"As every good mystery reader knows, when Sherlock Holmes quit detection, he retired to the South Downs to keep bees. What he wanted was the quiet life. What he got, according to Laurie King, was a gawky but fiercely intelligent apprentice. Not only that, but this apprentice was a young woman….For my money, Laurie King is the most interesting writer to emerge on the American crime fiction front in recent years. Intelligent, humane, gifted with both talent and insight, she is an unalloyed pleasure to read."
Val McDermid, Manchester Evening News

From Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed my LifeThe 10 mystery novels I’d most like to find in a summer rental:

  • An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (PD James)
  • Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Laurie R. King)
  • Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
  • Get Shorty (Elmore Leonard)
  • Dancers in Mourning (Margery Allingham)
  • The Way Through the Woods (Colin Dexter)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • Brat Farrer (Josephine Tey)
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John LeCarré)

"Imagine Sherlock Holmes retiring to a Sussex farm but keeping his hand in by occasionally investigating cases for the British government…. Then picture Holmes, walking on the Sussex Downs, literally stumbling across a 15 year-old girl whose brilliant intellect, caustic wit, egotistical personality, and gift for detail rival Holmes’ own."

"King’s novel is civilized, ingenious and engrossing. Best of all, it has heart."
Times Literary Review

"Sherlock Holmes, husband and mentor to Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell" was rated as second best “sidekick” of mystery fiction by BOOK magazine (Jan 2004.) From Koko and Yum Yum the cats (Lilian Jackson Braun) to “Mouse” Alexander (Walter Mosley), the winner, with 40 points, was Hawk (Robert B. Parker—and who would dare argue with Hawk?) but second, with 30 points, was Sherlock Holmes.


Book List and Chronology:
By publication and internal order, novels and short stories, the Russell Memoirs

Laurie’s thoughts The Beekeeper’s Apprentice:
Gathered on her blog, Mutterings.

Sussex Bees:
The Sussex Beekeepers Association

Pinterest page

Fan art on the Russell books



Two Shabby Figures

The discovery of a sign of true intellect outside ourselves procures us something of the emotion Robinson Crusoe felt when he saw the imprint of a human foot on the sandy beach of his island.

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defence I must say it was an engrossing book, and it was very rare to come across another person in that particular part of the world in that war year of 1915. In my seven weeks of peripatetic reading amongst the sheep (which tended to move out of my way) and the gorse bushes (to which I had painfully developed an instinctive awareness) I had never before stepped on a person.

It was a cool, sunny day in early April, and the book was by Virgil. I had set out at dawn from the silent farmhouse, chosen a different direction from my usual—in this case southeasterly, towards the sea—and had spent the intervening hours wrestling with Latin verbs, climbing unconsciously over stone walls, and unthinkingly circling hedge rows, and would probably not have noticed the sea until I stepped off one of the chalk cliffs into it.

Read the full excerpt