By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
I first heard about this novel on NPR and was intrigued by reading a novel about Sherlock Holmes’ older (and canonically smarter) brother and, quite frankly, by reading a novel by one of the greatest basketball players ever. In the NPR interview, Abdul-Jabbar says he’s been a lifelong fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and it really shows in the details of the novel.
Mycroft is also a really excellent character to expand upon, since he was only roughly sketched out in the original Sherlock Holmes Stories. This novel starts with a 23-year-old Mycroft, fresh out of university and working a mid-level government job with mid-level ambitions to marry his charming fiancé and settle down in a cottage in the countryside. The authors are able to basically build the entire character from the ground up, establishing the origin story of how he becomes a puppet-master behind the English government.
Mycroft, along with his close friend, Cyrus Douglas, an African Carribean shopkeeper, are first introduced in London, and my one quibble with the story is here. The introductory scenes include overly meticulously described action that bogs down the pace of the prose. I believe the explanation for this lies with author Anna Waterhouse, whose background is in scriptwriting. It very much reads like someone describing a movie scene, which can be tedious on the page, but also made me imagine what a terrific movie this novel would make.
The story really picks up after Holmes and Douglas get news of children being brutally killed in Douglas’ homeland Trinidad, which incidentally is also the home of Holmes’ fiancé. Holmes and Douglas go to investigate, and the action and suspense are skillfully done. The setting of Trinidad is fascinating, with a large mix of different cultures and society levels. The authors also explore themes of race and slave-culture in a time when slavery was legal in some countries but not others.
By the end, I was so engaged that I quickly checked to see whether a sequel was in the works before I remembered that this was only released in September. I very much hope that a sequel will come eventually, though — and possibly even a movie?
I never really liked the original Sherlock Holmes stories, which should have clued me in that I would find this book a bit of a drag, but it actually got progressively better as it went along and by the end I really enjoyed it. In retrospect, I realized it’s essentially a coming of age story for Mycroft Holmes, which means that he starts out super callow and entitled and winds up a whole lot better.
Ah, I guess that would make sense – if you aren’t all that interested in the original stories, this might not be all that interesting, either. I found the callow and entitled Mycroft fascinating because he was just so different than how I know he ends up being, so I was intrigued by each event that could contribute to the change.
Ooh, this sounds great! And yeah, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? He seems like a mighty interesting fellow.
Interesting and super impressive! When I was reading his bio on the back flap — all-time great athlete, cultural ambassador, New York Times bestselling author — it was very demoralizing. I will never do any one thing as well as he seems to do everything.
I thought this book was better than expected! NIce review.
Thanks! Your review was really good, too – I always appreciate seeing how readers focus on different parts of the same book.