Death Cloud is the first in Andrew Lane’s excellent new series about young Sherlock Holmes. Lane, a Brit who has written fan fiction for Doctor Who and James Bond, explains in his afterword that, “Arthur Conan Doyle gave little away about Sherlock’s early years… That has given me the freedom to create a history for Sherlock that is consistent with the few hints that Conan Doyle did let slip, but also leads inevitably to the man that Conan Doyle described.” And he did a great job: this is the first teen series to be endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate.
The book opens on a secondary character witnessing a mysterious happening – Matty Arnatt, who brings Holmes his first case and becomes Holmes’ first friend and sidekick sees a dark cloud fleeing the scene of an untimely death. Sherlock later displays his customary disregard for the supernatural as he tells Matty that clouds can’t flee, they aren’t magic and don’t have a mind of their own. The situation with the cloud continues to unfold, and Sherlock finds it irresistible to investigate.
I enjoyed the plot - an appropriately elaborate mystery, complete with murder, kidnapping, London thugs, and a solution just beyond reach - and the characters, but my favorite part of this book was watching the Holmes I know blossom within this young, fresh character. Young Sherlock develops an appreciation for bee keeping, learns the basics of disguise, and gets a thrilling introduction to chemistry. Two formative characters, older brother Mycroft Holmes and tutor Amyus Crow, teach him bits of logic: collect all the details; rephrase the problem in your own words to understand it better; and, of course, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Readers of young adult mystery and adventure will enjoy this book. The Victorian era setting will also interest readers who like historical fiction. And, of course, every Holmes devotee should hurry up and enjoy this origin story.
The only bad news… The second book isn’t out until April 2012…