The Language of Bees (Mary Russell Novels)
Title: The Language of Bees (Mary Russell Novels)
Author: Laurie R. King
Returning home after seven months abroad, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are met with a problem concerning one of Holmes’s beehives and the reappearance of his estranged son, Damien, who needs their help in finding his missing wife and daughter.
In a case that will push their relationship to the breaking point, Mary Russell must help reverse the greatest failure of her legendary husband’s storied past—a painful and personal defeat that still has the power to sting…this time fatally.
For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve—the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives.
But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from her husband’s past. Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the promising surrealist painter had been charged with—and exonerated from—murder. Now the talented and troubled young man was enlisting their help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child.
When it comes to communal behavior, Russell has often observed that there are many kinds of madness. And before this case yields its shattering solution, she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them. From suicides at Stonehenge to a bizarre religious cult, from the demimonde of the Café Royal at the heart of Bohemian London to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Russell will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced—a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart.
Amazon Exclusive: Laurie R. King on The Language of Bees
As a writer, I court serendipity.
Another way to say that would be, as a writer, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
In a stand-alone novel it doesn’t much matter that I pursue my plot-line in a dark attic with a failing flashlight, because in the early drafts I simply put everything down, then spend the rewrite peeling away whatever makes no sense or isn’t absolutely necessary. And when I’m finished with the novel, I’m finished—with the book and with the characters.
A series novel is a different animal. What I wrote in 1993, I have to live with in 2008, even if I no longer have the faintest idea what I had in mind back then. Sometimes this creates ridiculously convoluted problems, and I spend hours and hours paging through to find what color someone’s eyes were or if I credited them with a certain skill, and I end up wishing I could just recall all copies of the earlier book and make people forget about that line on page 238. Other times, well, I’d like to take credit for being such a genius planner, but as I said, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
However, some deep, distant, well-hidden part of my brain does, and when that Organizing Principle takes charge, things turn out in interesting ways.
Take my newest book, The Language of Bees. This, the ninth Russell and Holmes novel, is set in the summer of 1924, and its central character (apart from the series regulars) is a young Surrealist artist by the name of Damian Adler. And for those readers who are up on their Conan Doyle, yes, it’s THAT Adler.
Back in 1994, I wrote a book called A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in the series. In one scene, Russell is trying to get away from Holmes for a while so she can think about her future without him looking over her shoulder. When a friend conveniently presents her with a drug-addled fiancé in need of assistance, Russell seizes the opportunity to shove the young man’s problems onto Holmes and send them both away. One of the weapons she uses to force Holmes into agreement is a reference to his long lost son:
“And if he were your son? Would you not want someone to try?” It was a dirty blow, low and unscrupulous and quite unforgivably wicked. Because, you see, he did have a son once, and someone had tried.
And this is pretty much the only appearance of this mythic entity, the son, despite queries and entreaties and speculations from readers. I could not even have said for certain why I inflicted the master detective with paternity, other than Russell’s need for a weapon strong enough to bully Holmes into obedience, combined with the feeling that this drug-addled young officer needed to have a deeper meaning for Holmes than just a nursing job.
But the Organizing Principle in the back of my mind knew why he was there.
The “lovely, lost son” was glimpsed in Monstrous Regiment so that fourteen years later, I could sit down to write The Language of Bees and craft a situation as significant for Holmes as the psychic trauma of the previous book had been for Russell. Locked Rooms forced Russell to confront a past she had hidden from herself. The Language of Bees gives Holmes a second chance to know the son he had lost.
(I should, perhaps, mention that this idea of Holmes having a son by Irene Adler—“The woman”—is not mine alone. W. S. Baring Gould, whose definitive biography of the master detective was recently updated by Leslie Klinger in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, suggested the presence of a son. The boy, under the name Nero Wolfe, himself became a rather well-known detective.)
As soon as my mind dangled the idea of Holmes’ son returning, a world of possibilities blossomed: Where had the young man been? (perhaps… Shanghai?) Why come back now? (A wife disappeared, and a murder, and—what about a child!) And since one of the Conan Doyle stories refers to the art in Holmes’ blood (his grandmother’s brother was the artist Vernet) and since Irene Adler was an opera singer, why not make the son an artist—one of the Surrealists, just to put a twist in his relationship with the ultra-rational Holmes?
I’d like to say I had all this in mind back in 1995 when I had Mary Russell drop mention of Holmes’ son, but I prefer to save fiction for my novels.And as I said at the beginning, as a writer, I court serendipity. I may not know what I’m doing, but it makes for a more exciting journey, getting there. —Laurie R. King
(Photo © Seth Affoumado)