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Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane
Review by Liz de Jager
Macmillan Children's Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780330511988
Date: 04 June 2010 List Price 6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

"The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. His life is that of a perfectly ordinary army officer's son: boarding school, good manners, a classical education the backbone of the British Empire. But all that is about to change. With his father suddenly posted to India, and his mother mysteriously 'unwell', Sherlock is sent to stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt in their vast house in Hampshire. So begins a summer that leads Sherlock to uncover his first murder, a kidnap, corruption and a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent...

The Death Cloud is the first in a series of novels in which the iconic detective is reimagined as a brilliant, troubled and engaging teenager creating unputdownable detective adventures that remain true to the spirit of the original books."

Andrew Lane is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and was in the unique position to receive permission to write an approved telling of the famous sleuth's teenage years from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. This, however, is not his first novel. He's written various TV-show tie-in novels, as well as, amongst others, The Bond Files. Death Cloud is the first in a series of novels about Sherlock Holmes and is published by Macmillan Children's Books.

The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. His life is that of a perfectly ordinary army officer's son: boarding school, good manners, a classical education the backbone of the British Empire. But all that is about to change. With his father suddenly posted to India, and his mother mysteriously 'unwell', Sherlock is sent to stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt in their vast house in Hampshire. So begins a summer that leads Sherlock to uncover his first murder, a kidnap, corruption, and a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent...

The obvious excitement surrounding the Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law definitely lured me into picking up a copy of Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes. There was some apprehension reading something about such a well known literary character. Would the writer get it right? Will it be possible to write a story about the young Sherlock to a degree where readers would be able to nod and say: yes, I get it, I see it, this is a story we've not been told before. With the blessing of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, Andrew Lane set himself this daunting task and he acquits himself remarkably well.

We meet Sherlock as his older brother, Mycroft, comes to collect him from his boarding school to take him to lodge with some estranged family. Mycroft works for the Government and we are never really told exactly what he does but we are lead to conclude that it's something a little bit dangerous and important. As Mycroft works all hours, Sherlock can't go with him to London and he can't go home either. His mum's not very well at all and the only option left is for Sherlock to go and stay with his father's estranged family.

The estranged family is Holmes Snr's brother, Uncle Sherrinford and his wife, Aunt Anna. They live in Holmes Manor and have a draconic housekeeper, Mrs Eglantine. Sherlock is an unwelcome addition to this unhappy household and he is happy to spend his time outside, roaming the woods. His roaming leads him to meet with Matty, a boy the same age as him, but one who lives on his own on a canal boat.

There is something 'Oliver Twist' about Matty. He's a quick thinker, wiser than he should really be but also sweetly naive. And he's the perfect foil for Sherlock who knows a bit about life, but who is shown to be quite socially awkward. This is highlighted several times throughout the novel in small ways and it goes a long way to explain the Sherlock we meet later in the Conan Doyle novels.

Mycroft feels that Sherlock should be tutored during the school holidays and therefore he hires an American newly come to England to do this. The American, Amyus Crowe, is an enigma, amusing and highly intelligent. As he takes Sherlock under his wing, he lays the groundwork in Sherlock's young mind to become the detective we all know and love.

The overall mystery and story-telling is ace. There is a great sense of place and era. The case had me going. Several dead bodies are found with odd swellings. The rumour is that it's some kind of plague and things become pretty bad in the local area as people become suspicious of everyone else, the market in the town reduces to almost nothing. It's bad for business.

Between Matty and Sherlock, they stumble from one nightmare encounter to the next, and as they do, they start figuring out what's going on. The villain in the set piece is deviously dark and unhinged and deadly and vile and I adored it. The final scenes are high adrenalin and pretty macabre.

Young Sherlock Holmes, as I mentioned earlier, is written very well. It's a smooth easy read and once I got into the story, the language, and the characters, the book took off with various twists and turns. It's packed full of action, some scenes of violence and did I mention action? Actually, come to think of it, some of the scenes may not be appropriate to readers younger than say 13, so I do advise caution.

It's a great read aimed at boys in the teen market but I suspect more than a few adult Sherlock Holmes fans will be picking it up to read. I don't think they'll be disappointed!

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