Monday, October 26, 2015

Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother

Mycroft Holmes

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar &  Anna Waterhouse


Publisher: Titan Books

Pub date: October 6, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am a major Sherlock Holmes fan. I have read every one of the Arthur Conan Doyle tales and many of the tributes aka “Pastiches” writtenby others since then. Not surprisingly none of them ever rise to the equivalent of the original but there have been some noble attempts. In Mycroft Holmes written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Anna Waterhouse, the authors do a very wise move. They avoid the imposing Sherlock and concentrate on his smarter and older brother Mycroft. Sherlock does appear but only for a brief chapter. Mycroft only appears in four stories by Doyle. In this reworking, we are introduced to a younger Mycroft when he is still in good physical health and he hasn’t developed his phobia about field work. Sherlock is a university student who Mycroft is indulgent to, maybe slightly condescending, but sees real potential.

Mycroft is a promising young civil servant working for the British Secretary of State. He has his own “Doctor Watson”, a black man from Trinidad by the name of Cyrus Douglas who runs a tobacco shop. This friendship moves much of the friction in the tale as the writers are quite aware of and deftly use the racial friction of the times as a major theme in the story. In fact, one of the strengths in the book is that the authors are quite knowledgeable and skilled in portraying the social and psychological tones of the 19th century. But Douglas and Mycroft‘s girlfriend, Georgiana, have secrets about their Trinidadian homeland that comes into play when a string of children disappear, allegedly taken by an evil spirit called the Douen. The novel moves swiftly from London to Trinidad with much of it happening on the ship’s journey. Not surprisingly, Mycroft is very smart, very perceptive and surprisingly quick on his feet for an employee of the Crown. Yet Cyrus also has a number of skills and resources that become a surprise to Mycroft as he gets to know his friend better. The novel works on making both Mycroft and Douglas likable and it succeeds. My only complaint is that I wonder what happened to Mycroft that made him into the sedentary and somewhat haughty man that Doyle describes. I suspect there may be some sequels here and perhaps I will find out.

I applaud Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse for creating an exciting character, one that Doyle did not really seem all that interested in developing in the long run. Of course it is poetic license but that what makes these pastiches work when they do. Mycroft Holmes does work and if it tends to bog down at parts or show a few minor discrepancy in plot, they are instantly forgivable. Mycroft Holmes is exciting and fun and that is enough for now.

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