‘Young Sherlock Holmes #1 Death Cloud’ by Andrew Lane (3/5)
In ‘Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud’, Andrew Lane introduces us to 14yr old Sherlock Holmes, waiting for his father to collect him from school for the summer. Instead, it’s older brother Mycroft who turns up with some bad news for the young Sherlock, instead of going home he’s being sent to Holmes Manor, home of Sherringford Holmes as father (a soldier) is being sent to India. Not to worry though, it soon becomes clear that there is something very strange going on in Farnham.
The plot itself is a bit on the ludicrous side, Baron Maupertuis, crippled during the Charge of the Light Brigade is a grotesque man-puppet controlled by hundreds of unseen masked servants who are adept enough to control him in a sword fight. Using aggressive (presumably) Africanised bees, he’s had them trained to attack a particular scent which he’s introduced into the fabric of new uniforms being sent out to barracks. The bees will attack the soldiers, undermining their fighting spirit and somehow bringing down the Empire (I wasn’t entirely clear on this, but to be honest that doesn’t matter – it’s scheme of a very, very mad man).
Yes, really – that’s the plot but it’s actually pretty fun. Sherlock races around Farnham, London and France getting attacked and kidnapped at various points but it does feel like a genuinely fun adventure worthy of the Famous Five or Secret Seven. He even has his first Watson, an orphan named Matty Arnatt who lives on a narrowboat and his first potential love interest in Virginia Crowe (daughter of his tutor) who is adept at male disguise and has an intelligence to rival Sherlock himself.
The one part of the story I wasn’t on board with was the introduction of the American tracker Amyus Crowe, engaged as a tutor to Sherlock by his brother. Crowe is there to teach the young hero about the art of deduction and observation, he’s an oddly eccentric fellow who is a master of disguise in plain sight, keeps his correspondence on the mantelpiece secured with a knife and his cigars in a single slipper. I didn’t really see the need for this character, Sherlock spends very little time being instructed by him and the times when he needs to channel someone in order to get out of a tricky situation, it’s Mycroft’s advice he thinks of. It’s a bit like Lane needed an adult character in order to establish that Sherlock is still developing his famous skills but realised that Mycroft isn’t energetic enough to race around after his little brother as he gets into all sorts of scrapes.
Despite this, I really enjoyed this first introduction to Young Sherlock Holmes. There’s some wonderful descriptions, particularly of the London docks and Sherlock as a young boy is endearing. Mycroft is around in the background and Sherlock is only just becoming aware of his brothers influences, and I love that he’s clearly very fond of his brother.
On to the next adventure!