Sherlock Holmes is one of Literature’s most revered characters. Generation upon generation has found in him a brainy hero, someone who manages to win without employing might and strength. No, Sherlock runs on brain power, which is arguably his most endearing quality. Embraced by both the film and television industries both here and abroad, Sherlock has maintained a cultural presence unique unto himself.
Which is precisely why Andrew Lane’s young adult novel Death Cloud inspires reluctance. Lane’s novel approaches Sherlock from the aspect of childhood. For years readers have wondered what Sherlock must have been like as a boy, and Lane has attempted to answer the quandary. He has done remarkably well, considering that we are never given any indication as to what childhood events shaped our beloved Sherlock.
All reluctance aside, Death Cloud is quite the captivating novel, particularly for its intended audience. Lane has paid specific attention to detail regarding the time period within which he is working, down to the specifics regarding how people brushed their teeth in those days (“[Sherlock] splashed his face, brushed his teeth with a chalky powder flavoured with cinnamon that he sprinkled on his bone-handled hog’s bristle toothbrush, and quickly dressed.”) He has also managed to preserve that very traditional sense of class and social propriety (“The kids there had tended to avoid the house, belonging as it did the the people they thought of as their social superiors, “the landed gentry,” and Sherlock had spent most of his time alone.”) Sherlock’s friendship with both Matty and Virginia in the book serves to illuminate the social structures in place during what would have been the years of Sherlock’s childhood. Lane’s inclusion of Amyus Crowe also delineates the difference between social mores in England and social mores in America.
Lane attributes the development of Sherlock’s powers of deduction in part to both Mycroft Holmes and Amyus Crowe, an attribution many veteran readers of the Sherlock Holmes collection may find disappointing. With these two instructors, Sherlock’s ability to think on his feet and to mentally and logically move through a problem are quickly honed in this first novel of what is to be a series. Whether or not readers agree with the technique, it is reassuring for younger readers to know that Sherlock was not born brilliant, that it took years of practice and incidents to sharpen his wit and intellect.
The action in Death Cloud is captivating enough for younger readers; however, more mature readers will find the action sequences tedious. Sure, they are filled with anticipation, but while some readers anticipate the outcome of the scene, others anticipate the scene’s ending. Towards the end of the novel, readers, both younger and more mature, may find themselves weary of Sherlock’s penchant for falling into the same kinds of traps.
Despite its (at times) tedious nature, the entertainment to be found in Death Cloud will not disappoint its reader. Lane’s construction of Sherlock’s childhood will make the character both more relatable and more fascinating for whatever reader comes his way.