Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond (Baker Street Academy) by Sam Hearn
|Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond (Baker Street Academy) by Sam Hearn|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Some aspects of this book left my internal jury with a hung verdict, but I think the judge's decision is that it's worth a look – certainly it could lead to a very strong series.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: October 2016|
|Publisher: Scholastic Press|
We've had young Sherlock Holmes adventures, now for a young young Sherlock Holmes adventure. Here, he's the star pupil at Baker Street Academy, where new boy John Watson is having his introductory tour on his first day at the hands of the delightful bundle of company that is Martha Hudson. When they're not bumping into horrid Moriarty children, the trio are either experimenting in the science lab and besting the teachers (Sherlock), exploring the world with a gutsiness that doesn't quite show itself on the page, and walking around with the caretaker's dog Baskerville (Martha) or scribbling everything down in a blog and reacting in a suitably amazed fashion to all around him (Watson). But what's this – there's a class outing to a Victorian treasures exhibit, and all kinds of criminality are about to kick off. Yes, it might still be a junior fitting, but the game is definitely afoot…
I certainly wasn't sure what to make of this book when I first received it from the reviewing gods and flicked through. I'll be kind and say a lot of it looks like a scrap book, and not that it looks scrappy, although the difference is minimal in places. We start off in comic strip mode, break into something akin to illustrated prose, where the illustrations are many and often given a speech bubble or two (that you can't always be assured of reading in the correct order, for a while at least) then break into other narrative forms – pictures of school notice boards, email exchanges, pointless galleries of the dog, etc. Add in the different fonts and bubble style for every main character, and the word kinetic to describe the page is definitely on the weak side. Sometimes events are pictorialised by a trail across the page and a couple of words, elsewhere Sherlock is spouting off at a rate of knots and the font size becomes very tiny indeed to make room for all his enthusiasm and knowledge.
But that's first impressions. Having read the thing, a lot of things about my opinion have changed. First, this is no fly-by-night rip-off of the Conan Doyle canon. We start with Holmes meeting Watson, whose parents of course have come back from Afghanistan (and if you don't get the reference, google their first story together), and the detective can get the measure of his new friend with just one look. We have a scene where Holmes detects a man's character from the hat he wears (I believe that's cribbed from 'The Blue Carbuncle'), we have in-joke references to Holmes's original first name, and at least two delightful puns relating to the original short story titles (and a poorer one regarding The Hound Called Baskerville). To the adult checking this book out, whether for review purpose, or for proving to themselves it's suitable for their under-tens (and trust me, it is), they will see a lot that is here that makes the book good, purely because it's here out of love and respect for the original, and isn't necessary, in that it would whoosh over young heads faster than a giant rat from Sumatra.
But that's my opinion now – if I was, say, nine, and picking this from the library shelf, would I still love it? Well, I think the design would appeal, even if my adult self is currently a lot more sniffy. I'd dig the mention of kids loving the music track Uptown Funky (to what could they be referring?!?). But I'm not sure that I wouldn't be a little underwhelmed by the structure, and the drama involved in this case. OK, a little bit of it provided me with a little surprise, but I still feel the thriller aspect was quite poorly worn at times, and the case isn't particularly interesting, different or inspiring. I will admit that that's from my adult POV, and the younger me may have enjoyed it a lot more. I will concede that it could be a slighter, easier mystery due to this being the first book in what is clearly intended to be a series – and the way the book weaves the introduction to everything and everyone into the drama gets a thumbs-up from me – and without the preamble we might get a bit more depth and intrigue next time. For me, reading through these pages, I didn't get what I sought from Sherlock – without spoiling too much we only really get any proof of his genius at what was for me too late in the day, when I needed to be convinced of this author's cleverness (punning references and in-jokes regardless) earlier.
That leaves me, however, in the position of looking forward to more from this burgeoning franchise. Once I have been assured by more books that the author has got the measure of his audience, his source and the whole crime drama pattern, I will be more on board. As it is, it might be a little bit of generosity and/or optimism that is making me give this book four stars, but as it is I am definitely not intending to turn anyone away. Sam Hearn seems to have been purely an illustrator before now, but he's clearly been a reader too, and I may just well remain a reader of his.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
If you fancy an adventure for a similar audience, presented in equally modern and lovely fashion, you could do a lot worse than The Tapper Twins Tear up New York by Geoff Rodkey.
You can read more book reviews or buy Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond (Baker Street Academy) by Sam Hearn at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond (Baker Street Academy) by Sam Hearn at Amazon.com.
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