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Awhile back we read the Young James Bond series by Charlie Higson. I enjoyed it so much more than many of adult books I have read, it started me looking for more Young Adult books. Personally, I do not enjoy stories with too much romance - especially if it is graphically described, and I find the Young Adult books to be a bit far less graphic in this regard. But another aspect of this, is that they can not depend on sex to sell the book - so they have to actually work on developing a decent plot. Some books, like Charlie Higson's have the added benefit of being something both my son and I can enjoy together.
My oldest is only 7, and while he loved the Young Bond series, he did not really take an interest in this book. That is fair enough, I do believe 7 is well below the target age for this book, and I feel it is something he will enjoy in a few years. I also think if he had not discovered graphic novels, he would have taken a great deal more interest in this now, but as it is, his main interest now is super heroes. I did enjoy the book though, and I even bought the second book in the series, which I am reading now, but I can't really say it compares with Higson's books. That isn't to say it is a bad book, only that Higson's books are truly head and shoulders above any of the competition.
If you buy this book expecting to read something in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle, you will be deeply disappointed. Andrew Lane's writing style is completely different, and I feel it is for the best that he has not made attempts to ape Doyle. It is very unlikely he would have been able to pull it off anyway. Instead he has created his own set of stories, using Doyle's character's name, and the basic premise of a mystery and adventure story. I do feel that these books lean far more to the adventure, and contain far less mystery, but that is appropriate to the target age group.
This book attempts to show us the young Sherlock Holmes as he develops, from a fairly typical upper class British schoolboy to a budding detective. A large part of Sherlock's development is due to the tutor chosen for him by his older brother Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft has retained the services of a rather unique teacher, Amyus Crowe, an American who also tutored Mycroft, and it seems doubles as some sort of a bounty hunter as well. Mycroft is meant to have a desk job with the foreign office, but one begins to suspect there is a bit more to it than this. There are several loose ends here which are never tied up. Why has Mycroft chosen such an unusual form of education for his brother? Is he training him to be an agent or spy of some sort? What of their parents - it seems the father is an Army officer serving in India, and their mother is "unwell", but neither parent seems to take any role in the boys care or upbringing at all. Instead he is moved from a boarding school to a previously unknown relative, and placed under the tutelage of Mr Crowe.
Be it a coincidence or not, Mr Crowe's first lesson is cut short by the discovery of a dead body, covered with red welts. This book is not so much a "who done it?", as the guilty culprit becomes obvious fairly early on. The method of killing is most unusual, but again, this is also discovered very quickly. The real mystery lies in why. Why was this man, and another victim killed - what is the larger plan, and most importantly - how can it be stopped? Young Sherlock will meet a reliable friend, Matty Arnatt, as well as his tutors daughter - Virginia. Whether he draws his tutor into this mystery - or the mysterious Crowe draws Holmes further into it remains a mystery, but Crowe is obviously more than a simple tutor.
Ideally, I would say this story would best suit boys of perhaps ages 9 - 14. That said, I quite enjoyed the book myself. It is a good story, well written, and the author is able to draw the reader into the setting very well. There is a good bit of action and adventure - although perhaps not quite as much mystery as I would have liked. I very much enjoy books that keep you guessing for awhile. The villain is very much all bad. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but he does have some very unusual characteristics. He would make a perfect comic book bad guy. But beyond the fights and adventure, there is a nice story of friendship worked in. In addition, there are snippets of science and history worked into the story, even a very tiny, but exceptionally good bit on patriotism, and what it means to be British. This may only take up a couple of lines, but it makes the book worth purchasing in my opinion. There is also a brilliant little brain teaser. It shows you that the way you phrase a question can very much affect your ability to answer it - and if you are stuck on something - perhaps you hneed to find a new way of phrasing the question. I can't say this book is highly educational, but I think the average reader will learn something. For the most part though, it just a good story that is a pleasure to read.
Finally, the author clearly points out at the end of the book, that his goal was to show Sherlock Holmes before he became a famous detective, to show what factors formed the mind of this world famous sleuth. His idea is for people to understand what he was like as a teenager, where his likes and interests came from, and what started him on his career as a detective. This book is just a small start in these areas, but he does create a background suitable for the future Sherlock Holmes. The character is well developed, so that you get a feeling of his personality, and he is very likable. But would the story be just as good had he given the character another name? In my opinion it would have been. He could just easily have written this about any young boy in this era with a healthy sense of curiosity, and unhealthy tolerance to danger, and a set of most unusual circumstances.
I have wavered quite a bit on what rating to give this book. I don't feel it is as good as Charlie Higson's works, but then I don't any other writer in this genre can match Higson. I would also rate Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore a bit higher. I would prefer to give this a 4.5. It is a good book, which I feel will appeal to readers over a very wide age range, but not quite on a par with the very finest in this genre. A few parts are very far fetched and a bit like comic books, but I feel that this appeals to the target age range, and it is certainly no more far fetched than some of Young Bond's adventures, or Alex Rider's. I was all set to give this four stars, but re reading that little snippet on what is to be British and thinking of the wee brain teaser - that has pushed this over the edge for me, and I will give this a full 5 stars, especially considering the low price of this book.
I paid £2.45 for this, including all postage costs. Used copies are currently selling for £ 2.69 on ebay, and £2.81 from Amazon, with new copies available on Amazon Marketplace at £2.81 as well. Kindle editions sell for £0.94. At this price, I feel the book is quite a bargain for a light enjoyable read that would suit mature children or immature adults such as myself :)
'The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. His life is that of a perfectly ordinary army officer's son: boarding school, good manners, a classical education - the backbone of the British Empire. But all that is about to change. With his father suddenly posted to India, and his mother mysteriously 'unwell', Sherlock is sent to stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt in their vast house in Hampshire. So begins a summer that leads Sherlock to uncover his first murder, a kidnap, corruption and a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent...'
Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud is a 2010 children's book written by Andy Lane and follows in the footsteps of Charlie Higson's Young James Bond novels to present us with a schoolboy version of Conan Doyle's mythic hero Sherlock Holmes - here grappling with his first mystery and flexing those legendary embryonic deductive powers. This is a fast paced and generally entertaining book that younger readers and curious Sherlockians should enjoy quite a bit. It's written in a relatively prosaic manner but then you probably don't expect Martin Amis when you pick up a book like this and the Victorian atmosphere and depiction of life at school for Sherlock is certainly well done. It's a bit Scooby Doo but I did like the central mystery here and had fun with the book as far as it went. In Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud, our teenage hero is sent away to live with relatives in Hampshire (the blurb above explains this!) and befriends an Artful Dodger type boy named Matty Arnatt. Matty was witness to a strange death involving a dark cloud and Holmes is soon becoming drawn into his first major case.
'That was when he saw the cloud of death. Not that he knew what it was, then. That would come later. No, all he saw was a dark stain the size of a large dog that seemed to drift from an open window like smoke, but smoke that moved with a mind of its own, pausing for a moment and then flowing sideways to a drainpipe where it turned and slid up towards the roof. Hunger forgotten, Matthew watched open-mouthed as the cloud drifted over the sharp edge of the roof tiles and vanished out of sight...' Holmes is further embroiled in his sophomore caper when he finds a dead body on the estate and is witness to the strange cloud of death himself. He takes a sample of a strange substance he finds on the body of the dead man and heads off to consult an expert in rare diseases.
Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud is not bad actually and approached in a respectful and affectionate manner in relation to the adult Holmes we are familiar with. No Dr Watson here of course because Holmes only met him in A Study In Scarlet (the book is therefore written in the third person rather than presented as one of Watson's files) and no Inspector Lestrade either. One of the main challenges of the author was to surround Holmes with a memorable supporting cast without use of these familiar figures and he does this pretty well. I especially liked the villain Baron Maupertuis who is gloriously over the top but fun nonetheless. The book has a smattering of blood and a lot of chases and action but never steps over the line and becomes too Young Indiana Sherlock.
This is much more faithful to the canon than that enjoyable but flawed Young Sherlock Holmes film and tries to sow the seeds of some of the characteristics and quirks of the adult character. Holmes is not the aloof eccentric of the Conan Doyle books but he is a loner who doesn't quite know how to make friends. Lane introduces a mentor for him in the shape of an American tutor named Amyus Crowe. Crowe is in Britain on secret business for the US government but is hired by Holmes older brother Mycroft to teach him. Crowe is a wise old man with a big beard who knows how to track people down and is a vast font of practical knowledge. Holmes learns a great deal from Crowe that he will put to use in his future crime fighting career. Mycroft, who we were always led to suspect might be even more brilliant than his younger brother, is well sketched out here and already on the ladder in espionage circles. He's also very plump already (as described in the novels) and much older than his younger brother.
Nice early meeting between them at the school where Mycroft is impressed when Holmes tells him he has deduced that he travelled in their Father's carriage. 'I noticed the parallel creases in your trousers where the upholstery pressed them, and I remember that Father's carriage has a tear in the upholstery that was repaired rather clumsily a few years ago. The impression of that repair is pressed into your trousers, next to the creases...' Little moments like this are frequently the book at its most rewarding. Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud is a decent read on the whole and one I think that children will like. Imagine a loose cross between Harry Potter and the Young Bond novels and you are not a million miles away. It's a fair sized read at over 300 pages and at the time of writing can be purchased for under a fiver.
It's not the greatest children's novel you'll ever read but curious Holmes fans and younger readers should enjoy this as a decent, old fashioned yarn that serves as a fun riff on this most famous of fictional characters.