Wednesday, 1 January 2014

'Death Cloud' by Andrew Lane (2010)

Synopsis: Death Cloud is the first book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series. The year is 1868 and Sherlock Holmes is 14 years old. He attends boarding school and is about to go home for the summer holidays. However, Sherlock is dismayed when his older brother Mycroft turns up at the school and tells him that he won't be able to go home. This is because their father has been called away to India, their mother is ill, and Mycroft is busy working for the government. Sherlock will have to spend his holidays with his aunt and uncle at their vast home in Hampshire. When Sherlock arrives there he's ignored by his relatives and is unsettled by their malevolent housekeeper Mrs Eglantine, so Sherlock spends his days wandering around the Holmes estate and meets a working-class orphan called Matty Arnatt. They become friends and Matty tells Sherlock that he saw a mysterious cloud hovering over a murder scene in the nearby town. Mycroft then employs an American tutor called Amycus Crowe to teach Sherlock over the summer holidays (much to Sherlock's disgust). When Sherlock is on a nature walk with Crowe he discovers a dead body on the Holmes estate, and a cloud very similar to the one that Matty described hovering over it. Sherlock realises that something very sinister is afoot. He sets out to investigate these mysterious deaths and is assisted by Matty, Crowe, and Crowe's teenage daughter Virginia.

A book about a teenage Sherlock Holmes should be entertaining, clever, interesting and witty but unfortunately none of those adjectives describe this book. I had many issues with Death Cloud but the biggest one was that I don't think a teenage Sherlock Holmes would have been anything like the one that Lane portrays. It really bothered me. Lane's Sherlock Holmes is just far too nice and "normal". Where's the biting wit? The arrogance? The eccentricity? The love of adventure? And even the razor-sharp intelligence and detective skills? If anything the Sherlock Holmes of this book seemed like a blank canvas who will eventually get turned into the great detective that we all know and love by his mentor Amycus Crowe. And I had a huge problem with this. I hate the idea of him learning all of his skills and personality traits from another person! Sherlock Holmes's skills should be completely inherent and unique. Okay I suppose that ACD's Sherlock Holmes would have picked up habits as he got older and honed his skills but the very essence of his character should have been present at birth. In my mind ACD's teenage Sherlock Holmes would be less like the Sherlock Holmes of this book and much more similar to Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: arrogant, sarcastic, charismatic, extremely intelligent and desperate to gain adventures and knowledge.

I had a big problem with the romantic subplot in this book. Although Sherlock doesn't fall in love with Virginia in this book it's quite clear that he finds her attractive - he daydreams about her face and hair - and that this will be developed further in the sequels. No! I'm sick and tired of adaptations giving Sherlock Holmes love-interests! I'm completely against the idea that Sherlock Holmes was in love with Irene Adler or that he was secretly gay. Sherlock Holmes just isn't interested in sex and sexuality in the ACD stories and, like many Holmesians, I'm firmly convinced that his character is an asexual. Sherlock Holmes is a bit of an icon to the asexual community.

The plot of this book isn't too great either. The book does start off fairly well but the mystery isn't terribly engaging and there are too many unanswered questions. What was going on with Mrs Eglantine? Why is she no friend to the Holmes family? Was she working alongside the villain the whole time or was her character only there to lurk about in the shadows and act as a Mrs Danvers ripoff? Oh, and the villain's henchmen get some very cheesy and unintentionally amusing lines in this book too like "Prepare to meet your maker!" They made me laugh but I don't think I was supposed to!

This is probably sounding like a really scathing review but honestly Death Cloud isn't that bad. I can imagine children enjoying it and even with all of its faults it's still far, far better than the only other Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel that I've read: a Sherlock Holmes/The Phantom of the Opera crossover called The Angel of the Opera. Some of the secondary characters in Death Cloud are actually quite likeable. Matty is quite sweet and I liked Amycus Crowe as a character although I hate the idea of him being the mentor in all of the things that make Sherlock Holmes who he is.

To be honest I only decided to read this book because I thought it would help to keep me occupied in the wait for series three of Sherlock. Since it's New Years's Day I don't have much longer to wait! :D

Rating: 2/5


Hamlette said...

Try the Boy Sherlock Holmes series by Shane Peacock -- I'm quite enjoying them. I've only read the first 2, but I believe there are 6 or 7, and the series is now ended. There you'll find a fiercely intelligent teen Sherlock, sarcastic and sensitive, musical and aloof, and exceedingly curious about everything. They're YA, and a bit dark, and Peacock has made Sherlock a poor, half-Jewish boy whose parents were middle-class and respectable until they married and both families disowned them. But it works fairly well. Though I suddenly can't remember if Mycroft is in them at all, or if he's been written out.

But anyway, while Holmes has tentative feelings toward a girl, he crushes them in the interest of solving a murder, and they remain semi-friends. There's not really any romance.

The one thing I do find a bit annoying is that the author gets a little too cute with naming his secondary characters after canon characters or real-life people. While in Sherlock, I love having Stapleton turn up as a doctor in a secret lab and so on, here it comes across as a bit cutesy.

The first chapter of the first book, Eye of the Crow, is available here for free, if you want just a taste.

And this is now a reeeeeeally long comment, but I'm still going to add that hands-down the best non-canon Holmes book I've ever read is The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, which I've probably mentioned to you before. It's the first in a series, and the series itself does involve romance of a very cerebral and Holmesish sort (as it strikes me, but I'm not committed to the idea of Holmes as asexual), but the first book doesn't have anything of the sort. Which is good, since the female protagonist begins the book as age 15.

Hannah said...

Thanks for the recommendations! I read that first chapter of 'Eye for the Crow' and it already looks like a much better read than this book was! And I don't think you did recommend 'The Beekeeper's Apprentice' to me before (or if you did recommend it I forgot about it) It's funny you mentioning that one to me actually because I came across it on Goodreads the other day and its reviews were generally very favourable. I'll be sure to check that one out at some point. I've also heard great things about Anthony Horowitz's 'The House of Silk' and since I did love his Alex Rider series I'll probably check that one out at some point as well.

Hamlette said...

"The House of Silk" is on my to-read list too!