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Friday, March 21, 2014

A Slight Trick of the Author

The Sherlockian world buzzed last autumn with word that Ian McKellen had signed to play an aging Sherlock Holmes in the film version of Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind.

I'd never heard of the book, but I was instantly intrigued because I've always been fascinated by speculation about the Great Detective's Sussex Downs years, the period of his retirement. I'd already hugely enjoyed a book set during World War II, Michael Chabon's The Final Solution., that is clearly about Holmes even though his name is never mentioned. 

Recently, I acquired and read the Cullin book. It's a beautifully written psychological study about love, life and death - and about a fatherless boy and childless men . But there's very little action, and the only slight mystery in the end - the very end - leads to another mystery that is unsolvable.

Cullin's command of the Canon and the Baring-Gould additions is impressive. One wonders why he chose to have Holmes refer to Watson as John, and to say that's what he always called him despite what Watson wrote. Holmes also wears a beard, which he clearly hated in "His Last Bow."

The book opens with Holmes, age 93, returning to his villa after a trip to post-war Japan, including Hiroshima. He has outlived the good Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and his brother Mycroft. The book flips from that present to the immediate past of the Japan visit, and then to the remote past of a case Holmes worked on in 1902. This is all somehow compelling, but I couldn't say why.

It's hard to see this as a movie - but the movie will probably bear little resemblance to the book anyway.


  1. "Holmes also wears a bear, which he clearly hated in 'His Last Bow.'" I thought that "bear" was a British slang word of some piece of clothing that I was unfamiliar with, until I realized it was a typo for "beard". Thanks for the review.