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Young Sherlock Holmes

May 11th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

Having had a recent bad experience with a shoddy Sherlock Holmes film, I was more than a little wary about reading a novel about the exploits of Holmes as a teenager – Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, which I got through Amazon’s Vine program.

Fortunately the book turned out to be so much better than the DVD I watched at the weekend and I thoroughly approve of it.  I have a fair collection of Sherlock Holmes-related books, and will happily admit to enjoying all of them, even when I know they are not good, so I was likely to enjoy this anyway, but I didn’t expect it to be good as well.

Holmes fans are difficult to satisfy completely: they will always pick up on the slightest little thing that contradicts the official canon – even though the official canon itself has some inconsistancies, like the exact location of Watson’s wound form the Jezail bullet – but this succeeds in not setting off any huge alarm bells.

Of course I may be biased because, according to this book the Holmes family home is in Horsham!

Here is what I wrote about it:

Andrew Lane has a taken on a massive challenge with this book, which is to be the first in a series, because he has set out to write adventure stories for teenagers about the young Sherlock Holmes in such a way that they fit in with the established ‘facts’ about Holmes and so will be of interest to fans of the original stories without taking too many liberties.

I’m a long way from being a teenager myself, but I think I would have enjoyed this book if I had read it when I was, and more importantly I think I would have enjoyed it if I had read it before reading Conan Doyle’s books.  As a straightforward boys’ own adventure story, albeit one with quite modern levels of violence in parts, I reckon it works well enough, but does it satisfy the Holmes fan or just annoy them?

I probably qualify as a bit of a fan myself.  As well as all the original books in several formats I have a decent collection of Holmes pastiches, homages, sequels, and rip-offs. This book is more of anhomage in prequel form.

The book has obviously been written by somebody with a good knowledge of, and affection for, the original stories and a familiarity with the accepted theories about Holmes.  It includes plenty of passing references to things that Conan Doyle mentioned like the mysterious Paradol Chamber and Holmes’ French lineage on his mother’s side.  The uncle’s name in this book is Sherrinford Homes, which was actually one of Conan Doyle’s original names for the character.

What this book cannot do is have the feel of the ‘proper’ books, because they are (nearly) all written from the perspective of Dr. Watson and are very much in his voice. It would be too clumsy and implausible for the teenage Holmes to have his own equivalent and so this is just written as a normal third-person novel. Apart from in the prologue, the narrator only follows Sherlock Holmes.

Although sticking to known ‘facts’ as far as possible the author has had to introduce some of his own, necessarily.  It is fine for Conan Doyle to be vague about Holmes’ origins, but if you are writing a book about his early years they have to be set somewhere and in this case it is established that the family home is in Horsham, and Holmes is at school in Deepdene, near Dorking. But although some new biographical details are introduced I am pleased to say there is nothing that contradicts the Conan Doyle originals.

Other attempts to portray young Sherlock Holmes have had him being friends with the young Dr. Watson and the young Lestrade, which is not only ludicrous but is completely at odds with A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle, where Holmes meets Watson for the first time in 1881. There are no such gimmicks in this book and the historical details appear to be well researched too.

Admittedly the pace of this book is faster than the canonical stories, to suit the teenage tastes perhaps, and young Sherlock seems to have an un-natural ability to pick up things like horse riding or boxing just by watching somebody else do it, but I still found it absorbing and I am looking forward to more of the same even if only to find out whether there really is more to the sinister Mrs. Eglantine than meets the eye.

There is also a good chance that younger readers of this book will be tempted to read the originals and create a new generation of Holmes fans, and that can only be a good thing.

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