Where on earth does one start when discussing a best-selling author such as Laurie R King, whose publications and awards are so numerous there’s not enough space on this page to list them all?

Perhaps the best way forward is to identify her Oxford link, for although she was born in northern California, the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area, she actually has a house in Oxford, though she hasn’t lived in it for a while.

It is one of the terrace houses near Folly Bridge, which she says is near enough to the river for the basement to occasionally turn into a swimming pool. “My husband Noel bought it in 1967 when he got a job in California. His first wife was English and his children were at school in the UK,” said Laurie, who first visited Oxford after their marriage a decade later.

Speaking of her first stay in Oxford during 1977, Laurie talks about the weather: “My introduction to Oxford was in a December that was so cold the pressure in the gas lines was inadequate to warm the houses. But after that we came during the summer when the days were long, warm and intoxicating – in memory at least “Unlike most visitors, I met the city as an insider, hauling potatoes from the covered market and taking tea with Noel’s academic friends. So ten years later, when I was writing about a young woman in 1920s England, it was only natural to bring her to Oxford for her education.”

Laurie is speaking of Mary Russell, heroine of her second novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Published in 1994, this was to prove the first of nine mystery murders that open up surprising aspects of the great detective Sherlock Holmes — Mary Russell is Holmes’s wife. Mary, who is just 15 when we first meet her, spends a considerable time as Holmes’s apprentice. It is 1915, the Great War is raging and Holmes has been retired for more than a decade, spending most of his time keeping bees at his home on the Sussex Downs. From the beginning, Mary Russell has a mind very like that of the great detective. A relationship is born and she becomes not just his apprentice, then partner, but his wife, too.

Laurie admits that there is considerable debate among Holmes scholars about which university he went to, Oxford or Cambridge, but thinks it is self-evident that the man was at Oxford. Besides, this is the city Laurie knows best. “The real world is too far away from Cambridge,” she said.

“Although Oxford is not always mentioned in the Russell books, she’s in college (a nameless college) and she punts, of course — who could possibly come to Oxford without punting? I remember how my husband and I would punt up the Cherwell to the rollers and Parson’s Pleasure, then up the Isis to Port Meadow, while staying in Oxford.”

When asked how she came to portray Holmes as a married man, Laurie said: “Sherlock Holmes is less a misogynist than a misanthrope in general: he disdains pretty much everyone, male or female, who can’t get the better of him. One of the few that did was Mary Russell.”

In Laurie’s latest book The Language of Bees, Mary has returned with Holmes to the Sussex coast, having spent seven months abroad, only to discover the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of Holmes’s bees. But that is not all that faces them on their return. The promising surrealist painter Damian Adler turns up unexpectedly, providing more surprises.

As with all her Mary Russell books, Laurie concludes this novel in a way that leaves us waiting for the next episode. Fortunately her readers won’t have to wait long — her next book in the series, The Green Man, hits the bookshops next spring.

l The Language of Bees is published by Allison & Busby at £19.99.