My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While I found the title a bit uninspired, I couldn’t pass by this YA novel. It is the first teen series that is endorsed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s relatives, which is quite a kudo considering the plethora of Sherlock Holmes books out there. There was even a little write up saying they felt that the author ferreted out the clues of Sherlock’s early days from Doyle’s work and that this is a fair accurate imagining of Sherlock at fourteen.
Sherlock thinks he’s going home from boarding school for the summer and is quite excited about it. He doesn’t really like the school, has no friends and is close with his father and much older brother. However, Mycroft meets him at the school to inform him he can not come home. Their father, in the military, has been sent to India and their mother is unwell and not up to the task of taking on a young teen. Mycroft is fresh in his job with the government and is far too busy. To his horror, Sherlock is being sent to an aunt and uncle he doesn’t even know. His father had a falling out with them years ago but nonetheless he’s sent to his Uncle Sherrinford and Aunt Anna’s home.
Hoping to at least get to use his uncle’s large library, Sherlock is dismayed to learn that his uncle spends most of his time in there working on religious sermons for prominent preachers and his aunt spends her time holding conversations with herself. Worse there is the horrid housekeeper Mrs. Eglantine. Holmes does make a friend Matty Arnatt, a boy with a lifestyle very different from his own. Matty’s father ran off and his mother is gone. He’s surviving hand to mouth doing odd jobs. The reader meets Matty before Sherlock as he witnesses a death caused by the mysterious ‘death cloud.’
Eglantine catches wind of the friendship and the next thing Sherlock knows is being set up with a tutor to keep him busy all day. Aymus Crowe is hired by Mycroft to tutor Sherlock but as the story goes on it’s obvious this American is not just some tutor. He also has a daughter, Virginia, who rides astride and is more independent than any English girl would be in the 1860s.
Together Sherlock, Matty and Virginia with the help of Aymus get involved in figuring out what is the death cloud, who is behind it and how to stop it before they are all dead.
Overall, it’s very enjoyable and I was dithering what to rate it. It’s more 3.5 than 4 but I rated it up a little since it is mostly good. However, I had a few issues with it, mostly with the action. There is almost too much of it. Sherlock is running all over the place getting caught up in one death defying event after another and it strains believability just a bit. The thing that really bothered me is that between the three teens, several people die directly or indirectly by their hands. Bad people but two were not. What bugged me was that outside of one line, Sherlock really gives this no thought. The author, in an interview at the end, states that YA books are harder because adults will tolerate long passages where nothing happens but teens won’t. That’s true up to a point. I think he’s underestimating teens just a little. Look at the current teen sensation The Hunger Games. The main character spends a lot of time thinking on all the deaths. It would have given Sherlock more depth if he had at least been slightly bothered that a bunch of people are dead, especially the two innocent by-standers, one of which he should have realized he was setting up to get killed.
The villain and his plan are suitably weird and outlandish as many Holmes villains were. Aymus Crowe was an interesting character and I give the author bonus points for making the over religious uncle at least a decent man who did care in his way as opposed to a cruel hardhearted man as often is the case. I figured it was going to be a series about two-thirds (besides the fact it had the teaser chapter in it) because we have many dropped threads. Why does Mycroft warn Holmes about Eglantine? What did Mycroft really bring Aymus in to do? Why does Aunt Anna talk to herself? It’s an interesting story worth the reading.
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