The Language of Bees (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #9)

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"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
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The Language of Bees (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #9)

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"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 Cafe 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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Sherlock Holmes's bees are dying, but that is the least of his problems in this rippling Mary Russell mystery. Russell and her detective husband have returned to England in the summer of 1924 after a tiring world tour. After Holmes's son by another woman makes a fleeting appearance at their cottage doorstep and then disappears, Mary realizes that several lives will be snuffed unless she can solve the festering mystery. Her hunt takes her to ancient ritual sites and deep into London bohemian lairs where occultism carries a bloody tint. Edwardian atmosphere and a smashingly talented female sleuth.
Publishers Weekly

Readers will learn a lot about bee-keeping in bestseller King's sometimes lively, sometimes plodding ninth Mary Russell novel (after Locked Rooms), though the focus is on Sherlock Holmes's estranged artist son, Damien Adler, who pays an unexpected visit to Holmes and Mary Russell, Holmes's wife, in Sussex. Damien, "a drug-addled derelict" who was arrested for his drug dealer's murder several years back, soon becomes a suspect in more recent deaths. He enlists his father's aid in searching for his missing wife and daughter, while Mary undertakes her own quest into Damien's questionable past. Incognito, she finds her way to Damien's shabby Bohemian London home and to the Children of Light, a Druidic-style cult whose disturbing book Testimony, illustrated by Damien, is quoted at the start of each chapter. While the detective's shrewdly observant brother, Mycroft, and other Doyle regulars appear, fans of the original Holmes stories should be prepared for a strong feminist slant. (Apr. 28)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Back in Sussex after nearly a year of globe-trotting adventures (The Game), Mary Russell and husband Sherlock Holmes are immediately catapulted into two different mysteries: the disappearance of Yolanda Adler and her young daughter, and the sudden extinction of one of Holmes's beehives. Sherlock takes on the Adler case, while Mary, never one to mope at home, delves into the intricacies of the apiary. She then heads to London to consult with Mycroft Holmes and insinuates herself into Sherlock's case. And thank goodness, because he clearly needs her help. King's latest is not as much of a travelog as previous series novels, although Russell does charter an airplane. Seeing more of Mycroft is a definite treat, but Russell and her husband spend most of the novel apart, which is never a good thing. King wastes no time dropping bombshells that shake up the canon she's so carefully created. She's a consistently good writer who continues to delight her many fans. A required purchase for all public libraries and fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ1/09.]
—Laurel Bliss

From the Publisher
"A one-woman case for the defense of unauthorized literary sequels...intelligent, witty, complex and atmospheric...By making a woman possible who matches Holmes in brainpower, as well as in depressive tendencies of mind and spare elegance of manner, King has made marriage possible for the most famous and, surely, one of the most aloof detectives of all time....A spellbinding mystery...superb." —The Washington Post Book World on Justice Hall

"A wonderful blend of sheer wit and canny ratiocination, this is mystery at its most ingenious."—The Guardian on The Art of Detection

"Mesmerizing...King does a wonderful job of probing the human psyche...All of her novels are superb."—Daily American on Locked Rooms

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553804546
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series, #9
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of ten Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, and the acclaimed novels A Darker Place, Folly, Keeping Watch, and Touchstone. She lives in Northern California where she is currently at work on her next novel.
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Read an Excerpt

The Language of Bees

By Laurie R. King
Copyright © 2009

Laurie R. King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780553804546

Chapter One

First Birth (1): The boy came into being on a night of celestial alignment, when a comet travelled the firmament and the sky threw forth a million shooting stars to herald his arrival. Testimony, I:1


Portsmouth sweltered under a fitful breeze. 

Sherlock Holmes paced up and down, smoking one cigarette after another, his already bleak mood growing darker by the minute. I sat, sinuses swollen with the dregs of a summer cold I’d picked up in New York, trying to ignore my partner’s mood and my own headache. 

Patrick, my farm manager, had come to meet the ship with the post, the day’s newspapers, and a beaming face; in no time at all the smile was gone, the letters and papers hastily thrust into my hands, and he had vanished to, he claimed, see what the delay was about. Welcome home. 

Just as it seemed Holmes was about to fling his coat to the side and set off for home on foot, whistles blew, doors clattered, and the train roused itself from torpor. We boarded, flinging our compartment’s windows as far open as they would go. Patrick cast a wary glance at Holmes and claimed an acquaintance in the third- classcarriage. We removed as many of our outer garments as propriety would allow, and I tore away the first pages of the newspaper to construct a fan, cooling myself with the announcements and the agony column. Holmes slumped into the seat and reached for his cigarette case yet again. I recognised the symptoms, although I was puzzled as to the cause. Granted, an uneventful week in New York followed by long days at sea–none of our fellow passengers having been thoughtful enough to bleed to death in the captain’s cabin, drop down dead of a mysterious poison, or vanish over the rails–might cause a man like Holmes to chafe at inactivity, nonetheless, one might imagine that a sea voyage wouldn’t be altogether a burden after seven hard- pressed months abroad.* And in any case, we were now headed for home, where his bees, his newspapers, and the home he had created twenty years before awaited him. One might expect a degree of satisfaction, even anticipation; instead, the man was all gloom and cigarettes. 

I had been married to him for long enough that I did not even consider addressing the conundrum then and there, but said merely, “Holmes, if you don’t slow down on that tobacco, your lungs will turn to leather. And mine. Would you prefer the papers, or the post?” I held out the newspaper, which I had already skimmed while we were waiting, and took the first item on the other stack, a picture post- card from Dr Watson showing a village square in Portugal. To my surprise, Holmes reached past the proffered newspaper and snatched the pile of letters from my lap. 

Another oddity. In the normal course of events, Holmes was much attached to the daily news–several dailies, in fact, when he could get them. Over the previous months, he had found it so frustrating to be days, even weeks in arrears of current events (current English events, that is) that one day in northern India, when confronted with a threeweek- old Times, he had sworn in disgust and flung the thing onto the fire, declaring, “I scarcely leave England before the criminal classes swarm like cockroaches. I cannot bear to hear of their antics.” Since then he had stuck to local papers and refused all offers of those from London–or, on the rare occasions he had succumbed to their siren call, he had perused the headlines with the tight- screwed features of a man palpating a wound: fearing the worst but unable to keep his fingers from the injury. Frankly, I had been astonished back in Portsmouth when he hadn’t ripped that day’s Times out of Patrick’s hand. 

Now, he dug his way into the post like a tunnelling badger, tossing out behind him the occasional remark and snippet of information. Trying to prise conversation out of Sherlock Holmes when he had his teeth into a project would be akin to tapping said preoccupied badger on the shoulder, so I took out my handkerchief and used it, and addressed myself first to the uninspiring view, then to the unread sections of the papers. 

Some minutes passed, then: “Mycroft has no news,” my partner and husband grumbled, allowing the single sheet of his brother’s ornate calligraphy to drift onto the upholstery beside him. 

“Is he well?” I asked. 

My only reply was the ripping open of the next envelope. On reflection, I decided that the letter would not say if its writer was well or not: True, Mycroft had been very ill the previous winter, but even if he were at death’s door, the only reason he would mention the fact in a letter would be if some urgent piece of business made his impending demise a piece of information he thought we needed. 

Holmes read; I read. He dropped the next letter, a considerably thicker one, on top of Mycroft’s, and said in a high and irritated voice, “Mrs Hudson spends three pages lamenting that she will not be at home to greet us, two pages giving quite unnecessary details of her friend Mrs Turner’s illness that requires her to remain in Surrey, two more pages reassuring us that her young assistant Lulu is more than capable, and then in the final paragraph deigns to mention that one of my hives is going mad.” 

“ ‘Going mad’? What does that mean?” 

He gave an eloquent lift of the fingers to indicate that her information was as substantial as the air above, and returned to the post. Now, though, his interest sharpened. He studied the next envelope closely, then held it to his nose, drawing in a deep and appreciative breath. 

Some wives might have cast a suspicious eye at the fond expression that came over his features. I went back to my newspapers. 

The train rattled, hot wind blew in the window, voices rose and fell from the next compartment, but around us, the silence grew thick with the press of words unsaid and problems unfaced. The two surviving aeroplanes from the American world flight were still in Reykjavík, I noted. And a conference on German war reparations would begin in London during the week- end. There had been another raid on Bright Young Things (including some lesser royals) at a country house gathering where cocaine flowed. Ah–but here was an appropriate interruption to the heavy silence: I read aloud the latest turn in the Leopold and Loeb sentence hearing, two young men who had murdered a boy to alleviate tedium, and to prove they could. 

Holmes turned a page. 

A few minutes later, I tried again. “Here’s a letter to The Times concerning a Druid suicide at Stonehenge–or, no, there was a suicide somewhere else, and a small riot at Stonehenge. Interesting: I hadn’t realised the Druids had staged a return. I wonder what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say on the matter?” 

He might have been deaf. 

I shot a glance at the letter that so engrossed him, but did not recognise either the cream stock or the pinched, antique writing. I set down the newspaper long enough to read first Mrs Hudson’s letter, which I had to admit was more tantalising than informative, then Mycroft’s brief missive, but when I reached their end, Holmes was still frowning at the lengthy epistle from his unknown correspondent. 

Kicking myself for failing to bring a sufficient number of books from New York, I resumed The Times where, for lack of unread Druidical Letters to the Editor, or Dispatches from Reykjavík, or even News from Northumberland, I was driven to a survey of the adverts: Debenhams’ sketches delivered the gloomy verdict that I would need my skirt lengths adjusted again; Thomas Cook offered me educational cruises to Egypt, Berlin, and an upcoming solar eclipse; the Morris Motors adverts reminded me that it was high time to think about a new motor- car; and the London Pavilion offered me a Technicolor cowboy adventure called Wanderer in the Wasteland

“They are swarming,” Holmes said. 

I looked up from the newsprint to stare first at him, then at the thick document in his hand. 

“Who– Ah,” I said, struck by enlightenment, or at least, memory. “The bees.” 

He cocked an eyebrow at me. “You asked what it meant, that the hive had gone mad. It is swarming. The one beside the burial mound in the far field,” he added. 

“That letter is from your beekeeper friend,” I suggested. 

By way of response, he handed me the letter. 

The cramped writing and the motion of the train combined with the arcane terminology to render the pages somewhat less illuminating than the personal adverts in the paper. Over the years I had become tolerably familiar with the language of keeping bees, and had even from time to time lent an extra pair of arms to some procedure or other, but this writer’s interests, and expertise, were far beyond mine. And my nose was too stuffy to detect any odour of honey rising from the pages.

 When I had reached its end, I asked, “How does swarming qualify as madness?” 

“You read his letter,” he said. 

“I read the words.” 

“What did you not–” 

“Holmes, just tell me.” 

“The hive is casting swarms, repeatedly. Under normal circumstances, a hive’s swarming indicates prosperity, a sign that it can well afford to lose half its population, but in this case, the hive is hemorrhaging bees. He has cleared the nearby ground, checked for parasites and pests, added a super, even shifted the hive a short distance. The part where he talks about ‘tinnitusque cie et Matris quate cymbala circum’? He wanted to warn me that he’s hung a couple of bells nearby, that being what Virgil recommends to induce swarms back into a hive.” 

“Desperate measures.”

 “He does sound a touch embarrassed. And I cannot picture him standing over the hive ‘clashing Our Lady’s cymbals,’ which is Virgil’s next prescription.” 

“You’ve had swarms before.” When bees swarm–following a restless queen to freedom–it depletes the population of workers. As Holmes had said, this was no problem early in the season, since they left behind their honey and the next generation of pupae. However, I could see that doing so time and again would be another matter. “The last swarm went due north, and ended up attempting to take over an active hive in the vicar’s garden.”

 That, I had to agree, was peculiar: Outright theft was pathological behaviour among bees. 

“The combination is extraordinary. Perhaps the colony has some sort of parasite, driving them to madness?” he mused. 

“What can you do?” I asked, although I still thought it odd that he should find the behaviour of his insects more engrossing than dead Druids or the evil acts of spoilt young men. Even the drugs problem should have caught his attention–that seemed to have increased since the previous summer, I reflected: How long before Holmes was pulled into that problem once again? 

“I may have to kill them,” he declared, folding away the letter.

 “Holmes, that seems a trifle extreme,” I protested, and only when he gave me a curious look did I recall that we were talking about bees, not Young Things or religious crackpots. 

“You could be right,” he said, and went back to his reading.

 I returned to The Times, my eye caught again by the farmer’s letter demanding that a guard be mounted on Stonehenge at next year’s solstice, so as to avoid either riots or the threat of a dramatic suicide. I shook my head and turned the page: When it came to communal behaviour, there were many kinds of madness. 


Excerpted from The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King Copyright © 2009 by Laurie R. King. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 72 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 72 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2015

    A great addition to the Mary Russell series - hight recommend

    The Mary Russell series is a great character development series that never disappoints. This book give more insight into the main characters and is an intriguing story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2014

    She should

    Fly onto the roof of the school, in my opinion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2014


    If I were her, I'd fly away, but what do I know?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2014

    Very good.

    I liked the reference to "A Scandal In Bohemia."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2014


    Uh..... Hide!?! Some how shrink back down to bee size!?! One of those two.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2014

    Queen Bee (chapter ten)

    As the sun rose, the flowers bloomed. I had to do this quickly. <p> I went to each individual flower, sucking the nectar out. I wasn't very succsesful. I had a theory that it would make me more bee-like. It didn't seem to help. <br> I was surprised at how much I missed Zoeul and the hive, so I flittered over and sat in a tree. <br> The bees in the hive were starting to come out. There was a gaurd at the post. Was it Zoeul? I hoped. I watched. I waited. <p> Suddenly, something more threatenning was heard. The sound of school busses. I had completely forgot I was on school grounds! <p> (What should she do?)

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  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Highly recommended-you must check it out!!!

    Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are a couple made for each other. I always knew there was a child hidden somewhere. Sherlock and Irene Adler with a son. The author mixes many mysteries into one great novel but always leaving an opening for the next one. Mary is a strong intelligent woman with a mind of her own and a great companion for Sherlock. She is a fine detective in her own right and coupled with Sherlock and sometimes the help of Mycroft Holmes. All in all the series keeps getting better. Once again the "Mystery is Afoot".

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  • Posted March 7, 2011

    great addition to the series

    This is a fresh exciting tale from the Mary Russell series! Laurie R King brings some new twists and added depth to all of her characters. A great page turning read that had me ready to read about what will happen next!

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  • Posted June 17, 2010

    Fantastic Series

    This book is another incredible addition to a fantastic series. The writing is excellent. The settings, plots and characters are deep and engaging yet they move along at a great pace...

    ...I stayed up until 2:00am to finish this book - it was that enjoyable.

    If you are new to the series I recommend you start at the beginning to get the know the characters from the start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994). It's worth it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Mary and Sherlock Holmes

    Another installment in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes saga. As usual, it's well written with a very convoluted plot. The characters are always interesting. My only objection to the book is that it's ending is dependant on the next one - God of the Hives - which is out fortunately. If you liked the others you'll liked this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2009

    Continue to Love This Series

    I originally bought the first of this series on a whim. I absolutely loved them all, with the exception of one that was just "ok".

    I can't say enough about how pleased I am with this writer and this series.

    This book continues in the same high standard I regard the first 8 books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009


    This is another enjoyable book in the Mary Russell series. They are all well written and fun to read. I enjoy being transported into another time and place.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2009


    I agree that a show of affection between Holmes and Russell would add depth to the stories. I don't mean anything salacious, but that they are both intellectually driven should not preclude tenderness.

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I love this series by Laurie R King

    I was never a Sherlock Holmes fan but when you add Mary Russell to the equation you get a whole new look at crime. I like the fact that their marriage is of equal parts and she is has a brain as equal to Holmes' and the collaboration between them is heart-warming. They can agree to disagree. This latest adventure kept me thinking....who is really involved in what? The ending is left dangling, somewhat, so another adventure is forthcoming, I'm sure.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An Erudite Mystery

    Two of the criteria by which I distinguish my favorite mysteries from the general run are whether or not the protagonists are people I'd like to know personally, and whether or not they comport themselves intelligently. "The Language of Bees" is a winner on both counts. Once again the unlikely positing of a young Jewish intellectual as the wife of an older (but still vigorous) Sherlock Holmes provides an exciting and stimulating read, several cuts above the average casual summer fare. The plot, as is the case with the predecessors in this series, focuses more on young Mary Russell than on her beloved husband and mentor. It provides the requisite twists and turns to rivet the reader's attention, while finding room to provide a fascinating discourse on the science of bee keeping, and an on going examination of the difficult and demanding art of combining a successful marriage and a rewarding independence. I hope for many more from the author.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    entertaining sequel to "locked rooms"

    thoroughly enjoyable page turner. I first picked up "Locked Rooms" as a random read and was immediately hooked on the characters and writing style of Laurie King. Imagine the famous Sherlock Holmes married...and to of all American! In Mary Russell, King has created the the only type of woman I can imagine matching Holmes mind, wit and heart. An entertaining mix of adventure, mystery and romance in perfect balance. All the familiar characters are still present, but some of their roles have changed with time and wait till you hear what Holmes thinks of Sir Conan Doyle "worse than Watson ever was":-) King gives all the pieces and when she brings it together you wonder how you missed them.

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  • Posted July 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Russell and Holmes return

    How ironic that Holmes and Russell return after a nearly a year to their home in Sussex at the same time that they return to us after a 4 year absence. Back at their beginnings, Russell is again the apprentice to Holmes as beekeeper. Missing bees, however, have to take second place, when confronted with the surprise appearance of Damian Adler, Holmes' son.
    Holmes must first reflect on this presence and then attend to the problem which brought the two together - the disappearance of Damian's wife, Yolanda with their 4 year old daughter, Estelle.

    Disappearing into the night as Holmes frequently does, Mary is left to undertake the bee mystery. Finding a resolution that she feels will satisfy her husband, she heads to London to assist Holmes using her brand of logic (the feminine side).

    Throughout her time with Holmes, Mary Russell has observed the strangest human behavior but this case, due to the family relationships involved, has its own kind of madness to observe. Russell employs her own special talents in the area of religious cults while delving into the skeletons in the closet of the missing young woman from Shanghai. The trail she must follow leads her to the Children of the Light and eventually the darkness that she must shatter.

    I was disappointed that Russell was still lacking a bit in her self-confidence when she first arrived back, but understand her gradual return to self as the story progressed. I was glad to see that Mycroft had a larger part in this story. I particularly approve of the way Russell's concerns for Holmes' feelings were conveyed throughout. The story after the initial development was fast-paced and kept the reader driving or should I say "flying" to the end.

    I regret that we had to wait four years for Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes to return to us. This series never fails to educate, entertain, and excite. I'm glad that the next is scheduled for 2010. As soon as I know the title, it will be on my wishlist.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Holmes with Wife...fascinating

    I have read all the books in the series and I hope for more..I especially like the mystery where Holmes and Russell work together. One thing missing is the show of affection between them. This would make it a lot more interesting...

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  • Posted July 18, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    King Writes Another Winner

    All of Laurie R. King's books are fantastic, my only complaint is that she doesn't write them fast enough! Her books are written for the intelligent mystery lover and sneaks in many fun references that the well-read reader will enjoy. I prefer reading a series in order, so since The Language of Bees is the 9th Mary Russell I wouldn't read it until you have finished with the others. One of the best mystery series around today, the Mary Russell books are a true treat for mystery lovers and Sherlock Holmes fans!

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

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    Laurie King Scores Again

    I adore King's gift with words and flow. The originality of the relationship between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is wonderfully conceived and developed. This book adds a new layer of depth to their dynamic.

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