At the centre of this story is Albert Honig, an octogenarian bee-keeper. He lives in the same house he has lived all his life, and where as a young boy he learned the art and science of bee-keeping from his father, who had learned the same things from his own father.
Albert lives quietly, just tending his hives and reading the works of ancient philosophers, quite out of touch with the world around him.
But one day he realises that he hasn’t seen his neighbours, two elderly ladies, for quite some time. That was unusual, they didn’t speak but they were as much creatures of habit as he was, and so he walked over to their house. He found that they were both dead, seemingly the victims of a burglary that had gone horribly wrong.
Detective Grayson questioned Albert, trying to find out what he knew of his neighbours, what he saw. But Albert couches his answers in bee-keeping lore, in philosophy, circling the questions and rarely lighting on a specific answer. It was maddening for Detective Grayson and at times it was maddening to read, but Albert’s love of bees shone and it began to intrigue the detective. And I warmed to a fellow obsessive, though his obsession is quite different from mine.
Albert had known his neighbours – Claire and Hilda – since they were children. His mother was concerned that their family was troubled, that there were things wrong in their home, and so she encouraged them to visit. And in time they would learn the art of bee-keeping too. Albert had been close to Claire, the more confident of the two sisters, but she would never let him too close. There were parts of her life he knew nothing about, and there were things that she did that he could never understand. In the end they were estranged, and they hadn’t spoken in twenty years.
Albert thought on all of this as he tended his hives.
Peggy Hesketh writes beautifully and intelligently, and I was drawn in by lovely prose, vivid descriptions, and a rich vein of thoughts that was threaded through the story. All of that made the movement between the different aspects of the story feels completely natural.
Albert’s voice rings true. There were times when he was infuriating, but I’m glad that I held on. I was torn between thinking it was wonderful that he had such passions in his life, and thinking that they were obsessions that meant that his was a life only – no less – than half lived.
The central story had many familiar elements, and when the ending came I thought that I really should have worked it out. But I didn’t because I was caught up, with the story, with the writing, with the ideas.
I just wish there had been fewer passages about bees and bee-keeping. Many of them were interesting – and more interesting than I had expected – and many of them shed light on the story and the characters – but sometimes they overwhelmed everything else.
And that everything else was intriguing, and very well done.