Telling the Bees
Peggy Hesketh
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Buy *Telling the Bees* by Peggy Heskethonline

Telling the Bees
Peggy Hesketh
320 pages
March 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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It all begins on one of those impossibly warm, fated Southern California afternoons. Catching a whiff of eucalyptus as pungent as camphor and lye, the thoughts of Albert Konig--a gaunt, bespectacled old man whose "memories pulse more strongly than the blood in his veins"--turn to the house next door, the home of sisters Claire and Hilda Strausmann.

The connoisseur of a longstanding honey business, Albert pines lyrical about his bygone days as his beloved bees wax and wane with the seasons. When he spies a memorial on the gaudy mock cemetery of his neighbor’s yard, one name in particular finally strikes a chord, shattering his little faith in all he holds dear. Over the past years, Albert has observed Claire and Hilda silently tending their hives, yet nothing prepares him for the sight of his beloved “Bee Ladies” lying face-to-face on their sides with strips of silver duct tape binding their wrists and ankles.

As the electrical wires above Albert’s street come alive with a “feverish disembodied hum,” it becomes clear that Claire and Hilda and their house is clearly at the epicenter of this strange disturbance. Amidst the old orange and avocado groves that fill the patchwork of fields, the arrival of utilitarian Detective Greyson sets in motion a murder investigation. Albert’s melancholic reverie into the past will provide us with carefully articulated clues that may lead to the identity of Claire and Hilda’s killer.

Following Claire and Hilda’s untimely deaths, Albert endeavors to keep himself busy during the bright daylight hours. Given Albert’s enigmatic character, it isn’t surprising that Detective Greyson is drawn into the older man’s complicated past relationship with the Strausmann family. Loyal to his honeybees, which fill him with a measure of joy and companionship, Albert turns inward, finding solace in his beloved books as the evenings grow colder and darker.

Hesketh’s story swings back and forth in alternating chapters: Albert in the present then back in 1938, when an adolescent friendship between him and Claire is slowly forged but soon begins to fray around the edges. In the orange groves just outside of the Harmony Ballroom, we learn that Claire had an indiscretion that is slowly revealed through snippets of Albert’s memory. Unfolding in tones as low-key as they are deceptive, Albert’s fractured inner-life is revealed, along with the distressingly twisted line of inquiry into the darkest reaches of human psychology.

Beekeeping plays a critical role in Albert’s story, becoming almost a character, from the care that he takes of his loyal honey bees to the laws of the hive and the metaphorical notion that only a queen may sting another queen--not to mention those hives kept by Hilda and Claire, whose bees have their own distinct behavior and a temperament every bit as distinctive as the dominant human personalities in the story.

Embedding a shameful secret deflected from willful Claire to lonely Albert, who has nothing better to do than listen to the idle gossip of those who will buy jars of his precious honey, Hesketh basks in the relevant themes of isolation while also exploring how innocence can so easily by sullied by murder. For all his frustrations, Albert’s guilt and regret is palpable as he slowly begins to uncover the many facets that irretrievably damaged poor Claire’s double-edged life and ultimately sabotaged their tenderhearted friendship.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2013

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