Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review - Death Cloud

It’s the ultimate storm of literary fun. With the recent reinvigorated love of Sherlock Holmes and the huge resurgence of teen and YA fiction it’s a logical step to see a “Young Sherlock Holmes” series on the market. Death Cloud introduces us to Sherlock Holmes as the teenage student of a boarding school. It’s time for summer break but due to the war and other elements, Sherlock is being sent to live with his aunt and uncle rather than returning home or moving to London with his older brother Mycroft. Sherlock is a bit dismayed at the prospect of living in a provincial town with unknown relatives but at Mycroft’s advice he decides to make the best of the situation.

As we learn about Sherlock we find that his powers of deduction are just as present as ever but they are not yet fully developed or focused. While at school, he had used his deductive skills as a sort of parlor trick or way to influence others. He’d worked out some insignificant mysteries for other students but hadn’t really yet thought of himself as a detective of any sort.

Shortly after his arrival in Farnham to live with his relatives, a few things happen. Sherlock makes friends with a rover orphan named Matty. Sherlock sees a strange cloud that seems to move with a mind of its own out of a window and over the rooftops. He then finds that the window from which the strange cloud appeared is the window of a room in which a man was mysteriously found dead. Sherlock’s curiosity takes over and he sets off to try and find the answers.

As the story progresses it becomes very clear that Sherlock does not yet have the wealth and breadth of knowledge that are characteristic of his adult self. He is ignorant about many things that we would think as common knowledge to the Holmes we all know. For example he knows very little about geography, botany or biology. He has some interests in chemistry but is in no way adept. Essentially this book starts us off with a near “clean slate” version of Sherlock Holmes. He is very capable of connecting the dots and seeing things that others do not see, but he does not yet have the overarching knowledge yet to determine the things that are important or the dots that are to be connected.

So how does a curious but observant Sherlock gain the required knowledge and skills to solve the case? Sherlock’s aunt and uncle along with Mycroft decide that it would be wise for Sherlock to have a tutor. Mycroft hires a man named Amyus Crowe. Amyus is from America and has a “particular set of skills” which serve him well as a man of wisdom in navigating the world. Amyus presents Sherlock with a number of real-world observation tests to try and get Sherlock “thinking outside the box” and searching for answers beyond the obvious. He also acts as a sounding board to help supplement the lacking scientific knowledge of our young Sherlock. At first Amyus discourages Sherlock’s involvement in the mystery but then takes him under his wing and they work together, along with Matty and Amyus’ daughter, to unravel the strange happenings around Farnham.

The writing is simple and yet vibrant. The characters are interesting, distinct and fun. The adventure is intriguing and engaging. Overall this is a fun adventure mystery. Due to his youth and inexperience, this truly could have been presented as a standard adventure-mystery with no connection at all to Sherlock Holmes. By setting it as a Holmes prequel of sorts, the author puts forth some pretty big expectations to be filled.

Generally speaking I felt like this story did a good job of living up to those expectations. Holmes purists may find elements to quibble with but I really enjoyed the story and felt like it captured the essence and tone of a Holmes adventure. I also feel like this particular novel will be a more accessible entry point to younger/newer readers as they look to read Holmes stories. While it is definitely not an official Sherlock Holmes story it will be more approachable to younger readers who may be bored or put off by the 19th century style of Conan Doyle’s originals. My hope would be that new readers would gobble up this novel then be hungry for the original Holmes stories.

3 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

whew...any time they mess with one of the well established characters it scares me a bit...doesnt sound like a bad romp though...