Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock is the sixth book in the Boy Sherlock Holmes middle grade detective mystery series (available October 9, 2012).
Our hero discovers that his rival, the criminal Malefactor, has used nefarious means to place one of his two henchmen in a powerful position in the government treasury offices. But the henchman crosses his superior and is brutally murdered and thrown into the River Thames. Sherlock seeks to implicate Malefactor in the henchman’s death, believing that he can, once and for all, bring down his rival. But is the murderer whom Sherlock suspects? Or is some darker, even more powerful force moving about London?
Life, or rather fate, works in mysterious ways. So here I am starting to read a series of novels starring Boy Sherlock Holmes from the final chapter backwards. Shane Peacock does such great work recreating an era and reinventing a hero that I just have to read the previous five novels.
It’s not that I feel young at heart, which I do; it’s not that the mystery is so great, which it is; it’s not even the fact that it’s an easy read that made me like this novel—it’s the whole package. The background, the writing, the characters, everything here seems right to me; especially the characters.
(Holmes) is deep in one of his black periods. They have descended upon him in short stretches since birth and grown more frequent since his mother’s death (which he believes he caused). But he has always thrown them off. When his prodigious mind has been excited by a truly challenging problem or, better still, by the scent of the solution to a crime that no one else can solve, he has always risen to the heights of an almost erotic energy, like an opium addict with the juice of the poppy plant freshly rushing into his veins.
Does that remind you of someone? The author seems to lay the foundations for the future Holmes, the one we all know and admire. He’s already tough, he’s definitely stubborn, he’s getting better and better in the martial arts and his powers of deduction are beginning to fully bloom. But he’s lonely. Sigerson Bell—his mentor and boss, an apothecary and mystic—is dying. The two girls that he felt close to are gone, and now he hungers for companionship—the Watson he hasn’t yet met.
. . . as Sherlock sits at the lab table, he desperately needs friendship. There are pains in his chest, and he feels a shortness of breath. It is as if he were slowly being squeezed to death.
What he really needs right now is a case, and that’s exactly what he gets. And, to make things even better, it involves his old enemy, Malefactor. The questions at first are: How did Malefactor manage to get a job in the treasury office for one of his goons? And, more importantly, why? Then, a third question arises: How did the goon end up dead?
As is usually the case when it comes to Holmes and Malefactor (who in the future will become known as Moriarty) the whole story reminds the reader of a game of chess. The opponents respect and even admire each other, though they fight for different causes. The winner, of course, will be whoever outsmarts the other.
Malefactor’s brain and Holmes’s work similarly, or at least they come to the same conclusions when at the game of crime or fighting it.
There’s a mystery for you. A mystery that will bring the somewhat catatonic Sherlock back to life and that will lead him to wander at the darkest hours of the night in the most dangerous parts of London; a city that’s in deep mourning for the loss of one of the most important people that ever set foot on its dirty streets, Charles Dickens.
In his effort to bring to life the events that took place in the month of June 1870, and to put his story in a historical context, Peacock makes a lot of references to the life and work of Dickens, someone who inspires Sherlock in more than one way. Dickens’s last and unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood has given Sherlock a lot of food for thought and, in a way, helped him move on with his mission.
No one will ever know, for sure, who murdered Edwin Drood, or if he simply vanished into thin air. There are those who think they have the answers, but to estimate and understand the imagination of Charles Dickens, to think you could even begin to know the twists and turns that might have ensued is, to Holmes, a gross assumption bordering on the absurd.
Holmes likes answers, the assumptions are of no use to him, so he’ll do everything he possibly can to solve the aforementioned mysteries and then some, and in the end he’ll come to a painful realization: “He now knows that emotions are his enemy. He must be a machine, a sword against evil.”
And so the adventures of Sherlock of yesterday come to an end; and thus the Holmes of tomorrow is born.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.