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Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

NBA Hall of Famer, political activist, and now accomplished author. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can do it all. With Anna Waterhouse, he takes us on an adventure starring that other Holmes brother, Mycroft. In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Mycroft is the older brother of Sherlock, mysteriously working for the government. He has powers of observation and deduction maybe even greater than his brother’s, but being out of shape, he prefers to work behind the scenes in the service of Her Majesty’s government.

In this novel, entitled, fittingly, Mycroft Holmes, Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse tell the tale of a younger Mycroft, at at time when Sherlock is still a student and Mycroft has just begun working for the government. However, he is soon pulled into a larger adventure spanning half the globe that takes him to the original home of his fiancĂ©e and, coincidentally, his best friend Cyrus Douglas: Port of Spain. He and Cyrus uncover an international plot to… well, that would be spoiling it.

Mycroft’s friend Cyrus is the descendant of slaves. This lets Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse explore the social context of the time (the later half of the 1800s) and, in particular, race relations both in England and in colonies such as Trinidad. It isn’t forced, but occurs naturally, in the way that Cyrus is forced, by context, to interact with others. This kind of social commentary is something that isn’t really present in Doyle’s original Sherlock stories, and helps distinguish this novel from the original inspiration, in a good way.

The story starts off a little slow, with lots of background and setting the stage for the later half of the novel. But, then it quickly escalates, with lots of action and intrigue. Mycroft Holmes is an overall fine addition to Holmesian literature.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most famous people of his time, the fame garnered through the adventures of his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes even leading to knighthood. As a consequence, he led a life almost as interesting as his creation. In Arthur & George, Julian Barnes explores that life, particularly in the context of how it crossed paths with one George Edalji, the son of a vicar who also happened to be of Indian descent.

George is a normal, quiet, if odd, boy, who grows up in rural England. He perseveres against his bad eye sight and overall reserved character to eventually become a solicitor or lawyer. However, as George’s life becomes complicated, Arthur is eventually drawn in as a real life manifestation of his creation Sherlock to solve the mystery of George’s trouble.

The novel, while fictionalized, is based on true events in which George and his family are the targets of local persecution. While it is never stated why, there are hints that their Indian heritage makes them outcasts in rural England, though George himself never accepts this to be the case.

In the lead up to their lives crossing paths, Arthur has his own life, full of adventures and romance. Particularly engrossing is his relationship with his wife, especially after she becomes ill. I won’t spoil it here, but the inner conflicts that Arthur endures go a long way to showing the nature of his character. This is where Arthur & George shines, in the development of these two characters, Arthur and George, delving deep into their psych and their motivations. There is no big international scandal or reality-destroying threat on the horizon, just the deep insight into the lives of two men who briefly cross.

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

9780316197014_p0_v1_s260x420The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz is the first official addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle last laid down his pen. Officially sanctioned by his estate, the conceit of The House of Silk is that there was an adventure of Holmes that was so sensitive and involved such important power-brokers of England that Dr. John Watson had it sealed for 100 years before it could be published. Thus, it occurs relatively early in the cases that form the canon even though it was published so late.

It is also presented as if it were written late in the life of Dr. Watson, and the author, Horowitz, uses the opportunity to have Watson reflect on a number of facets relating to his relationship to Holmes. For example, he laments that he never really gave much thought to Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Holmes and Watson. This gives some nice insight into how Dr. Watson viewed the world he shared with Holmes.

sherlock holmes consulting detectiveI’m one of those who discovered and devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid. Not only did these stories introduce me to a different way of looking at the world — deductive reasoning — but they took me to a different time which, looking back, was both more sinister but more naive than our own, at the same time. These stories and the basic idea behind them form so much of what we see in our media today, from the obvious Elementary and Sherlock to shows such as Monk and House, shows I generally tend to enjoy. I also was what seemed to be the only person who got into the Sherlock Holmes “role playing game” as a kid, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, a game that had an excellent foundation, but which I simply couldn’t get others to play. I was therefore pretty excited to find this new addition to the Sherlock Holmes mythos.

The House of Silk is a very well written tale that is grand in scope. The mystery that Holmes and Watson are drawn into is very intricate and twisted. The various characters are handled well. The way Holmes is handled is particularly gratifying. At one point, in which the situation is rather dire and Watson receives some assistance from a third party, I felt a little disappointed that Holmes would need to be bailed out, but it turns out the Holmes had his own solution. Overall, it was a very gratifying read and a great addition to the Holmes adventures.

There were two minor quibbles I had. First, the conceit of the novel, that this was a particularly sensitive case that couldn’t be published at the time of the original cases, felt like it closed more doors than it opened. That is, it didn’t seem to leave much room for any further adventures. Of course, there is a lot of “unaccounted time” in the life of Holmes that could be filled in, but exactly how any other story would be added is a little uncertain. Possibly there is no plan to do so, but given the success of this novel and other media versions of Sherlock, I would be surprised if the estate does not take advantage and push on this.

Sherlock-HolmesThe other quibble is that Holmes, while the central character and the most critical character for advancing the plot, is also, in some odd ways, not that present. He is of course there, all the time, giving his insight, but he feels a bit detached, a bit distant. Maybe it is part of the idea that Watson is telling this story many years after it happened, and of course his personality dominates. Whatever the reason, Holmes almost feels a bit more like a plot device than a real character. Maybe that’s the way all of Doyle’s stories were too.

However, these are minor quibbles and the story itself is a very fitting successor of the Holmes mythos. A fast and satisfying read, I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed the original stories. This novel certainly makes me want to finally break out that annotated set of stories I’ve had on the bookshelf for more than a few years and rediscover this great character.