Note: Tracy is my friend and we worked together on Rise of the Europan; I was excited to read and review her book. I’ve done my best to keep this review unbiased, but I’m only human.
A stolen car, a briefcase, and a body. Someone knows the story behind all of it, and the Bee Keeper is the man to find that story. He’s a legend, the kind of figure that people whisper about and get a chill whenever they hear his name. No one knows who he is, but lots of people have heard the stories. No one ever comes back from the Bee Keeper. When a young woman finds a luxury car and takes it on a joyride, she has no idea what kind of people she’s gotten herself involved with, or how deep their secrets go. She’s about to find out that she stole the wrong car at the wrong time.
The Bee Keeper by Tracy Vincent is a novel flush with intriguing characters and a suspenseful plot that doesn’t let go of its secrets until the very end. It’s sure to offend some readers for whom its intimate characterization and unblinking approach to violence might be too much to handle. The city of Hartford is home to a wide variety of mobsters, small-time criminals, thugs, miscreants, manipulators, and politicians–and The Bee Keeper does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the world of these elements. It’s not a book for the squeamish or easily disturbed, but it’s a treasure for anyone that’s not afraid of a little blood and sex in their books. If you’re willing to delve into the minds of these characters, there’s a depth and substance to every part of the book that helps instill a sense of immediacy. If this book captures you early, you will be compelled to read and find exactly what happens next.
I have to say, I was initially a little skeptical about the book, because it’s written in the first-person present. I rarely read fiction written in the present tense. It’s a difficult style, and many authors fail to tell their story well without tripping over the details of maintaining this particular point-of-view. Fortunately, my concern was unwarranted in this case, since The Bee Keeper does what few first-person present narratives manage to do so well: it leverages the immediate and in-your-face quality of a story that’s told in the language of the present. Things aren’t being relayed from a passive narrator telling us what a character once said. No, the character is telling you each time. I never felt like the use of present tense distracted from the flow of the story, which has happened to me with other novels, and the pacing throughout the whole matched the diction. A few of the middle chapters slowed the action in favor of some obvious backstory, but that was a minor speed bump on the road to this novel’s scorching conclusion.
Characters are the defining feature of this book, specifically the six main characters whose stories form the different parts of the novel. There’s never any doubt that we’re strapped in for the ride with these people as they narrate from one moment to the next. The reader is connected to the thoughts of whomever is telling their part, and the details of each player’s role in the larger plot emerge from organic moments in the story in such a way that we begin to put together the mystery at its center the more closely we read. This is a clear example of how character-driven storytelling doesn’t need to eschew a good, complex plot in order to succeed. There’s an astounding plot in The Bee Keeper, though some of it is hidden under layers of character that demand the reader’s attention to detail. There are a few moments in the book that less careful readers might miss out on, where entire facets of characters are revealed in a “blink and you missed it” span of words. I feel like I might have missed a couple in my own reading.
Although the novel has six different narrators, I never felt like they blended together or made the story more confusing. Sometimes a book can be overwhelming with multiple characters each telling their part of the story, but this wasn’t one of those times for me. Each narrator has a distinctive voice of their own, and each one is essential to the book. There are no wasted characters here, no excess chapters that detract from the plot, and characters don’t waste words rambling about nonsense.
One of my favorite things about The Bee Keeper is that it’s loaded with stories inside of stories. When characters find themselves in compromising positions, they’re forced to recount some past event in order to answer questions. These moments stand out as some of the best in the whole book, because, like everything else, they’re given to us by the characters directly. We get to go back in time with the characters, to see where they fucked up or where something went wrong. The many stories told within the confines of the book add a certain quality to the narrative that I think book nerds (guilty here) will enjoy.
In spite of its frequently dark and cynical look at human nature, The Bee Keeper is a fun book. I found myself racing through the final chapters, thinking that I’d found every last twist, only to discover that a couple of late surprises managed to sneak past me right up to their reveal in the story. Keeping up with all the twists and turns that unfold might be a challenge for some readers, but that’s no fault of the author’s. There’s just a lot to take in when you’re reading. Personally, I found the details fascinating; trying to figure out who is connected to this character, or how, adds another layer to the experience. Most importantly, there aren’t any unsolved mysteries or hanging plot threads by the end of the book, so you won’t be left wondering what the hell happened to so-and-so.
The Bee Keeper is a thrilling ride, and it takes the reader on a tour of some of humanity’s darker avenues. It’s probably the sort of book that requires trigger warnings for many a reader, but I won’t get into that here. Just know that it doesn’t coddle the reader. I never wanted it to, though, and I think that’s part of why I got pulled into its story so easily. The words contained in these pages will make you feel all sorts of conflicting emotions without giving you enough time to stop and mull them over before continuing. Tracy Vincent doesn’t hold back in her debut novel, and if you’re like me, you’ll be glad she didn’t spare any details.
The Bee Keeper is now available on Amazon and you can follow Tracy:
–On her website
–On her Facebook page
–On Wattpad, where the first part of The Bee Keeper is available to read for free
P.S. I’ll have an interview with Tracy coming to this blog soon, so keep an eye out for that.