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Friday, October 30, 2015

Mycroft Holmes: A Journey of Mind and Heart

Based on its name, one might expect Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse to be a novel of sweeping scope, like Doctor Zhivago or David Copperfield. Instead, it covers just over three weeks in the life of a 23-year-old government official.

But they are crucial weeks, pivotal in creating the man we meet later in the Canon. A turning point in the story comes when Mycroft declares: “It is as you said, Douglas. The small evils I encountered here and there in my life are nothing to the utter depravity I have now witnessed. I was unprepared. I swear on all that is holy that it shall never happen again.” 

It is tempting but misleading to characterize Cyrus Douglas, a 40-year-old black man, as Mycroft’s Watson. He doesn’t tell the story, nor is he the only viewpoint character. It is the strong bond of friendship between the two men that evokes the Holmes-Watson comparison.

Another key player is Mycroft’s fiancĂ©, Georgiana. Since the Mycroft we know is every bit as much a bachelor as his younger brother, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to know that we shouldn’t get attached to her. The question is not whether our hero loses her but how.

Georgiana suddenly departs for her (and Douglas’s) native Trinidad early in the book. Mycroft and Douglas follow after on a quest to find her. By the time Mycroft returns to England after many harrowing adventures – and several chances to show off the deductive prowess he learned from Dr. Joseph Bell – he’s a different man.

Some of the twists and turns in the plot leading up to that point strain plausibility. It might have been an even better book if it hadn’t been so clever. But that is nitpicking. This is a tale well worth reading.

The opening of the novel arrests our attention immediately:

“The old man had heard of them, of course. Everyone on the island had heard of them. A few had even seen the evidence – imprints in the sand – but he never had.

“Not until the children began to die.”

Murdered children is the hook. But it’s one of the novel’s strengths that the real crime isn’t revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book, and the real villain almost at the end. In the final pages, Mycroft’s take-down of the mastermind behind a truly colossal scheme is as satisfying as it is surprising.

Although Mycroft Holmes is different at the end of the book, he still isn’t the rotund Diogenes Club founder who occasionally is the British government. I would gladly read more from the imaginative minds of Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse about his further adventures on the way to becoming that man.  
To hear an interview with the authors, go to I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. 

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