I love the title of this the 9th Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel. In name and spirit, The Language of Bees brings things back to the beginning once more. Back to the Downs, back to the hives, back to a 15-year-old Mary Russell stumbling over a retired detective tending his bees in peace, thus setting into motion the unlikely formation of a most formidable and engaging partnership. What an adventure it's been, and how fascinating to follow these two dominant personalities meet and clash and meet again, picking their way ever so rationally toward a kind of home.
In this installment, Russell and Holmes indeed come home to Sussex after months and months abroad--tired, anxious, and, in Russell's case, tangled up in self-doubt and disillusionment. They walk through the door to find Holmes' beloved bees have inexplicably fled their hive and a stranger waiting for them. A stranger who is not a stranger after all. They met surrealist painter Damian Adler once before. Now he solicits Holmes' aid tracking down his missing wife and child. Holmes and Adler depart for London, leaving Russell to unpack, unwind, and investigate the mysteriously missing bees. Soon, however, the pair will reunite and blaze a trail across the isles of Britain, following a string of standing stones, gruesome suicides, and sacrifices, as they attempt to locate Damian's family.
There is something of the truly macabre in this volume. Even the cover, which at first glance is merely lovely, takes on a particularly disturbing quality after all is said and done. Undertones of madness course throughout the tale and I found myself, along with Mary, shaking off shivers of fear and uncertainty in my haste to find out what was behind the string of awful deaths and missing people. Interestingly enough, I found the crux of the mystery to be not so much who did it but the effect of fear and uncertainty (and, yes, madness) on each of the major players. Excepting, of course, Holmes' unflappable brother Mycroft, who continues to be a delight despite his sudden loss of weight. Russell and Holmes' stay with Mycroft was one of the high points for me, as was (rather surprisingly) Russell's solo stay at home. Usually I prefer my Russell and my Holmes together for as much of the story as possible. However, I found myself completely riveted as Russell paced the halls of the place that has, after nine years, become her home, trying to find herself once more amid a houseful of Holmes. Laurie R. King pulls out all kinds of stops in this one, managing at once to entertain and make the reader think and feel and wonder, like Russell, if anyone can be trusted. Holmes, Adler, even herself. I will say that this one does end unresolved in certain respects and, as such, left me longing for the next installment. Alas, a not altogether unfamiliar emotion.