Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud
London, Macmillan, 2010, 306p
The 2013 Bookbuzz list was published recently, so I am making an early start on getting myself acquainted with them, so that I can make suitable recommendations to our new intake of Year 7s.
Death Cloud was one of the selection that I already had on the shelves. We meet a young Sherlock Holmes, on summer break from school. Mycroft has sent him to his uncle's house in Farnham, where he initially finds himself bored and lonely; until he meets Matty, a street child who shows Sherlock what fun can be had. Then, Sherlock and Matty stumble across a strange mystery: two unconnected men are found dead, covered in warts and boils, with plague-like symptoms. The locals assume a new epidemic upon them, but Matty thinks it might have something to do with a strange black cloud he sees near one of the incidents. Convinced that no adult will believe them, they set out alone to work out how these deaths occurred.
The story is face-paced and exciting, full of unexpected twists, life-endangering fights, and moments of comic relief. Sherlock comes up against an evil genuis, a Gothic, Bond-like villain who is seemingly unstoppable. But this Sherlock is still young and willing to learn, and has a brilliant supporting cast of friends to aid him.
I am an ardent admirer of all thing Sherlock Holmes, though my true preferences have always been with Conan Doyle's originals (I have mentioned in the past that I think this is because I love the fact that Conan Doyle actually despised his infamous protagonist). I like Sherlock's confidence and style, his logic and skills of deduction. The villains are always classically maniacal and the mystery always has a strangely obvious solution. I also love the setting: late Victorian London, amongst all the grime and dirt of the alley ways.
This had all that and more. The Young Sherlock Holmes novels give the reader some sort of understanding of how the mature Sherlock came to be. He is a little bit socially awkward, having few friends at school. He is intelligent and deductive, under the leadership of his tutor Amyus Crowe, who teaches him about observation and the value and power of having knowledge. The Sherlock we meet through Andrew Lane's novel is not fully-formed, and is willing to learn, but already has that cocky self-assurance that tends to get him into trouble. But he is recognisable, and that is invaluable.