Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

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Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: How did Sherlock Holmes grow up to become the most famous detective of all time? Andrew Lane has been chosen by the Conan Doyle Estate to write the most authentic possible origin story but comes up short in my opinion at capturing the essence of Sherlock. That said, for young readers who can cope with what's a surprising level of violence at times, this is an entertaining enough thriller apart from the over-the-top ending.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Macmillan's Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0330511988

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With his father overseas in the British Army, his mother unwell, and older brother Mycroft busy working for the government, young Sherlock Holmes is forced to spend his school holidays with his unknown uncle and aunt. Looking forward to days of doing whatever he wants, especially after meeting urchin Matty Arnatt, he's initially displeased when Mycroft hires him an American tutor – but the tutor, Amyus Crowe, and his daughter Victoria end up teaming up with Sherlock to solve the mysterious deaths of two local men, and uncover a plot which could have far-reaching consequences…

Two murders, bloodthirsty villains, a little romance, and the development of the incomparable Sherlock Holmes – sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Well, it certainly has its moments – notably when Matty and Victoria, two likeable characters, are involved. However, there are also a fair few flaws here – for a start, Sherlock doesn't seem particularly bright, until the end of the story when he makes one fantastic leap of deduction which would be utterly convincing for the more mature character, but comes a bit too far out of nowhere for me compared to how he'd been portrayed in the earlier part of the novel. It also reads a bit more like fan fiction than a 'proper' book in some places – there are lots of nods to the original books, including the famous quote about eliminating the impossible, and a villain whose surname starts with M (and therefore presumably starts the famous M index which would go on to include Moriarty and Moran), but the ending is the kind of far-fetched nonsense – with a lead villain who goes down as one of the most implausible I've ever read – which is likely to have anyone over the age of 14 or so laughing as they read it.

So, dedicated Sherlockians are unlikely to find this book particularly satisfying – but in fairness, it's clearly aimed at youngsters, so how does it fare there? Well, it's certainly exciting enough, if you're willing to overlook the crazy ending – but it's also incredibly violent in places, with a captured Sherlock being tortured by having his face whipped at one point – the description of this could have been more graphic, I suppose, but it's certainly a lot stronger than I'd have expected from a book aimed at this novel's target audience. I'm trying to work out whether I'd feel particularly comfortable recommending this to a 12 or 13-year-old pupil I taught, and I'm having to go for no – certainly not without a parent reading it first.

All in all, this is perhaps worth checking out for voracious Holmes fans who really want a possible origin story, or for youngsters with strong stomachs and a thirst for action – but I'd say there's much better out there.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For a much more satisfying Victorian children's thriller, try Mortlock by Jon Mayhew. We've also enjoyed Young Sherlock: Night Break by Andrew Lane.

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Ian Luck said:

Many years ago, Mr Lane, who went by the name of 'Andy' then, wrote a Doctor Who novel, entitled: 'All-Consuming Fire', in which the seventh incarnation of the Doctor meets and joins forces with Holmes and Watson. This was a book that I have read many times, and so you can imagine my surprise and pleasure as I read 'Death Cloud' that Baron Maupertuis and his henchman Surd, who feature in 'All-Consuming Fire', popped up in this new book. Maupertuis is not that great an adversary, but Surd is a wonderful creation, and I hope that he appears again. If you know 'All-Consuming Fire', you will know that his scarred skull hides a truly disgusting secret, of the sort that young readers will find very, very cool indeed. I enjoyed 'Death Cloud', and read it in one sitting. Yes, I'm way older than the target audience, but I have loved anything Sherlock Holmes since I read 'The Red-Headed League' and saw Billy Wilder's beautiful 'The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes' when I was nine years old. I'm pushing forty-seven now, and that love of the character, and his murky world, still has me in it's thrall. Yes, the book is very violent in places, but no more so than any of the 'Young James Bond' books, or Alan Gibson's 'Scared To Death' series. These are adventure books, and adventurers encounter violence. It should be shown, but not dwelt on, but it should show that it hurts, and is not to be encouraged. I look forward to further books in this series.

Ian Luck, Ipswich.