By Andrew Lane
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 978 0 330 51198 8
You can't keep a good detective down - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote more than 50 short stories and four full-length novels about Sherlock Holmes between 1887 and 1927. The sleuth has made something of a comeback recently, appearing in a couple of new guises, including a Hollywood blockbuster and a TV series in the UK.
After Conan Doyle's death in 1930, the Sherlock Holmes industry got into full swing, with other authors writing stories, novels and original movie screenplays about Holmes. Today there are certainly more stories about Holmes out there not written by Conan Doyle than were actually penned by the great man himself. Keen Holmes fans either approach these imposters/aficionados with trepidation, or ignore them all together, believing that nothing can touch the original Conan Doyle short stories and novels.
Andrew Lane took on a huge challenge when he signed up to write the first novel in a proposed series about a teenage Holmes. Encouraged perhaps by the success of the Young James Bond series, Conan Doyle's estate got squarely behind this new venture. There was a lot of pressure on Lane to come up with a novel that could stand up by itself as an exciting work of fiction and not seem trivial compared to what Conan Doyle wrote.
Death Cloud may not be Conan Doyle's, but young readers who have not met Holmes before will find much to enjoy in Lane's rollicking adventure yarn. Lane is sensible enough not to take the sort of massive liberties movie producer Steven Spielberg did with the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes - such as introducing a teenage Holmes to a teenage Watson, his future sidekick. The young Sherlock of Death Cloud is learning the tricks of his later trade and Holmes experts can see how he could quite easily develop into the Holmes of the Conan Doyle tales.
Sherlock is staying with a distant aunt and uncle in the country during the long summer break from boarding school. Ignored by his relatives and intensely disliked by their sinister housekeeper, he makes friends with a local boy called Matty and gets on well with Amyus Crowe, a tutor engaged to teach him during the vacation. But he'd still rather be elsewhere.
But when Sherlock comes across a very dead, pustule-covered body in the local woods, it is the start of an adventure that will set the young man well on the way to becoming the world's most famous detective.
With one or two nods to the original stories, Lane throws exciting action, a very nasty grotesque villain and just a smattering of romance into Death Cloud. The ending is a bit far-fetched, but the story and characters leading up to the final pages do nothing to disgrace the originals.
If you don't already know Holmes, Death Cloud is a fun and sometimes intriguing way of meeting him for the first time.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com