One unforgettable hero.
The beginning of a legend.
14 year old Sherlock Holmes’s hopes of spending the summer holidays with his parents are dashed when his elder brother Mycroft brings news that their father (an army officer) has been sent to India to quell a brewing mutiny and their mother’s poor health prevent her from looking after Sherlock. Instead Sherlock is sent to stay in Holmes Manor with his Uncle Sherinford, Aunt Anna and their unpleasant housekeeper, Mrs Eglantine.
Sherlock’s fears of a dull summer are confounded when he meets Matty, an orphan runaway who witnessed a strange cloud of smoke moving up towards a window, heard screams from within and later, saw a body covered in boils being taken away. Intrigued, Sherlock investigates – helped by Matty and Amyus Crowe, an American who’s recently moved to the area with his beautiful daughter, Virginia. Soon Sherlock’s having an adventure that will set him on a path to becoming a legendary detective.
The first in a new series authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate, Andrew Lane tackles the job of filling in Holmes’s teenage years. Lane gives a bibliography of texts used to create this story and while Holmes enthusiasts are better placed to comment on the canonical accuracy, certainly the main Holmes characteristics – intellectual curiosity, deductive skills and his phenomenal memory – are introduced and will clearly be developed as the series continues. Holmes is also portrayed as an action hero and swordsman, constantly getting himself into (and out of) trouble.
Of his sidekicks, Matty is a pragmatic working class survivor and thief; Amyus Crowe an investigator and survivor the American Civil War, whose skills in deduction and investigation intrigue Holmes, while his beautiful and spirited daughter, Victoria is a skilled horsewoman with charms that catch Sherlock’s emotions. In truth, the Crowes seem a sop to the US market and while Victoria’s contribution to the Holmes legend seems a little obvious, it’s one that could have been left out.
The big problem though is that the mystery is poor. Indeed when presented with the solution, Holmes himself comments on how unlikely it is to work. The arch villain is a cartoon and his physical disabilities unintentionally comical rather than chilling. Non-period slang (notably “kids”) is repeatedly used and as a result neither Sherlock nor Matty ever quite feel of their time.
The next book promises a trip to America for Sherlock, but I’m not rushing to read it.
Although Lane has clearly done a lot of research on the Holmes books, for me this book is let down by a poor and deeply implausible central mystery. Also the inclusion of two American characters (including a potential love interest for Sherlock) seems more like a sop to the US market than something that adds something interesting to the original legend and certainly jars in the context of the historical period. All in all, it’s a book that didn’t quite work for me – an okay read rather than a great one.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: DEATH CLOUD was released in the United Kingdom on 4th June 2010. Thanks to Macmillan Books for the ARC.
Cross-posted to books, bookworming, cool_teen_reads and yalitlovers.