Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

Death Cloud--Andrew Lane
June 2010 by Macmillan
313 pages--Goodreads

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.

This was a fun read.  I would have eaten it up in middle school.  It moves quickly with trouble following our main character around the whole time, so there are a lot of escape sequences.  The book starts off with a bang and an intriguing prologue.  Other reviewers have noted an Alex Rider vibe, and I would agree with them.  The teen characters in the novel and powerful.  It is expected that they can save the day, and they do.

I liked the focus on deduction to solve the mystery.  I don't like when a detective solves the case by pointing out an obscure fact that no one else could know:  this ash comes from a line of cigars sold exclusively in a particular shop in downtown Singapore; thus the murder is...   Holmes usually has a particular problem with this manner of mystery solving, but not in this version.  There is a bit of Scooby-Dooing (the villain goes on a rant and explains his secret plan to the hero) (thank you Misty for the term) near the end, but for the most part we follow along with Sherlock as he puts things together.

The villain is a half-baked, simplistic, and revengeful.  Holmes needs a Moriarty, not a bumbling crook.  Granted, Holmes isn't a mastermind yet, but still, I expected more out of the villain.  One other minor issue:  Mrs. Eglantine never goes anywhere.  Mycroft makes this big deal about her not being a friend to the Holmes family, and then she does nothing.  I can understand if Lane wants to wait until later in the series to have her be a super villain, but she needs to at least shoot Sherlock a dirty look at the end so we don't forget she exists.

This is the only YA series endorsed by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so it must be an accurate-enough-to-canon thing.  Lane writes a reasonably believable 14 or 15 year old Holmes.  He's more relate-to-able and less a sociopathic recluse than the adult Holmes, but that is necessary for a YA book.  Death Cloud is a great introduction for teens into the world of Sherlock Holmes.

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