Lindsay Jackman is a detective in the Pacific Northwest mourning the loss of her partner/mentor to suicide when she’s called out to the scene of a murder. The young woman at the bottom of the ravine is a college student, researching a story – one that is more an expose, and that appears to be about Marnie Spellman, who hawks bee-inspired cosmetics.
The Hive note in the title is a group of five women who were closest to Spellman, the majority of whom were nurses. While the original five are no longer on Lummi island, where Spellman lives and where she creates her cosmetics lines, there are other women who live an work on Spellman’s farm and who help with the business.
As it seems all roads lead to Spellman, Jackman picks up Spellman’s first book and beings to read it. I’ll say here that this book within a book is filled with the usual pablum found in most “you’re the owner of your life” type books, except for Spellman, not only is the future female, so is the now.
This is a multi-POV book that also bounces back and forth in time. Specifically, we go from the present in 2019 to the past, in 1999, when one of the women in the Hive (Calista) died under mysterious circumstances. It appears the murdered journalist was hot on the trail of this story and had to be killed to stop her snooping. There’s a twist there that comes from nowhere, which I’m definitely not a fan of – I’ve read mysteries where the murderer is only introduced in the last ten pages or so, and to me, that’s cheating the reader out of a fundamental involvement in the story.
Meanwhile, we are told Spellman has some kind of charisma that draws people – especially women – to her, even to the point of women like Calista, who leave their husbands and their kids to go work on Spellman’s farm. I don’t doubt this happens; Spellman is, after all, running a cult, although she and everyone associate with it claim it isn’t.
As we go along with the pieces of the story told by the token cliches -a woman running for Congress, a past-her-prime actress, a woman who faked her own death, and another who blackmailed Spellman to not say anything about what they were doing on the farm. The threads begin to come together, and the reveal of the truth behind Spellman’s products is likely to elicit a shrug. It did for me, anyway, as at most I could see the nurses getting in hot water for theft, and not for making items with the ingredient. The substance cited has been in use for quite some time, with its efficacy in this particular, specific use questionable.
The murderer of Calista is eventually discovered, and the murderer of the journalist is not, thanks to a lie from a major liar and blame cast on someone unable to defend themselves. There is a short epilogue at the end that reads like a closing card on a TV show detailing what happened to the people seen on it.
Overall, it’s a moderately good read, with a little too much bouncing around in time for my taste. There is also one large issue I have with the book, since I am a beekeeper. I’ll give my rating here, and will put the bee-related kind of, but not quite, rant, below.
Three out of five stars. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.
Spellman’s backstory is that she had some kind of epiphany when she saw a swarm of honeybees and they lifted her off the ground and spoke to her. That’s fine: people have weird visions or voices in their heads all the time. She claims the bees tell her what direction she should go, and she does. She is, of course, known as the queen bee on her island, and the five women who are closest to her back in 1999 are of course called the Hive for this reason and because they’re making cosmetics with bee products. This is fine.
What is not fine, however, is something so basic that it is incorrect in this book not once but three times, and there’s another bee-related error as well.
“Pulsing noises lay atop each other as drones bring nectar stolen from the clouds of blossoms that hover over blackberry brambles that line the roads of Lummi Island.”
“‘contains royal jelly.’ From her reading, Lindsay knew that royal jelly was the substance drones fed a bee to turn her into a queen.”
“”Scout,” Calista said, her voice growing weak. “The most important role for a male in the hive.””
Even a cursory look at Wikipedia, or just a generic search would, in 30 seconds or less, return information on who does what in a beehive. I’d expect that a book revolving around bees would get this fundamental item correct: drones (male honeybees) do not gather nectar, do not feed larvae royal jelly or anything else, and are not scouts. Drones primarily exist to mate with virgin queens, and otherwise hang out in the hive, cared for by the nurse/worker bees – all of whom are female. All work that relates to the upkeep of a hive is done by female bees. That includes gathering nectar and pollen, caring for larvae, guarding the entrance, and scouting out new locations for a swarm. Drones, if they are still around when winter comes, are unceremoniously kicked out of a hive to save on resources.
“Nectar is honey transformed.”
Exactly the opposite: honey is nectar (gathered by female forager honeybees) transformed (by female honeybees).