Author: Liese Sherwood-Fabre
Title: The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar
Series: The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes #3
I confess I have a soft spot for almost everything Sherlockian. Or Holmesian? 😉 Obviously, Doyle’s original work is in my book incomparable to anything written later on that topic in tribute/pastiche/inspiration/parody/retelling (oh, retelling, gah!) etc. – but I still quite enjoy a new spin on the unique character of Sherlock Holmes and his unsurpassed powers of deduction. And there’s a LOT to pick from, believe me. Some of them are even endorsed by Doyle’s estate, some become a matter for loud lawsuits, and there are even Sherlockian scholars sacrificing most of the waking hours of their life to Doyle’s creation. I don’t pretend to be a Sherlockian pro, far from it. But I’ve read my share of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and among them two managed to get reviews on this blog. Gaiman’s and Albuquerque’s A Study in Emerald turned out to be a delightful romp through Lovecraftian-inspired Victorian London, and Lovegrove’s version of the Christmas adventure of Holmes and Watson was warm and cozy and very much in the Holmesian spirit. Sherwood-Fabre offers something slightly different: adventures of a teenage Sherlock Holmes, at 14 still quite impressionable and surrounded by a loving family.
When I requested The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar from NG I knew this is the third book in a series – but with a character as well known as Sherlock Holmes, reading out of order doesn’t really seem to be an issue. While there are references to prequels, the knowledge of previous events is in no way crucial to understanding or appreciating the plot of this one, as they are unrelated.
In The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar we find Sherlock Holmes, 14, in London with his family for the Easter break. A murder disguised as suicide threatens not only the livelihood and good name of the victim’s family, but also of Mycroft Holmes, blackmailed by the desperate sister of the late lord Surminster. Together with Sherlock, Mycroft, and their formidable mother we traipse through Victorian London: from British Museum to seedy brothels, from opera to the docks, from opulent estates to morgues, we’ll see it all. We’ll even visit Baker street, witness Holmes’s first encounter with laudanum, and learn more about the origins of his love for theater and music, as well as his long-lasting cooperation with street urchins.
And certainly, Sherwood-Fabre’s attention to historical detail is commendable; her London, while still retaining some of the faded glamour of old postcards, is believable and lively enough. Servants crowd bachelor’s entrances and streets, jostling with street urchins and bobbies and carriages of the wealthy, and students use their freedoms with abandon. The strict social conventions and hierarchy of the times are also portrayed with creditable fidelity: all those handkerchiefs, written missives, invitations for tea and dinner seem to leave so little time for any sensible activity, it’s no wonder that older Sherlock was inclined to dispense with social norms.
But what I liked the most about The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar was actually the character of Mrs. Holmes. While I’m ill-disposed to ideas of inventing additional members of the Holmes family, such as a younger sister, I’m quite happy to see a believable female character around: and what makes more sense than depicting Holmes’s mother as a resourceful, compassionate, very intelligent, learned and quite independent woman with well-honed observation skills? I really enjoyed the family dynamics depicted by Sherwood-Fabre here: they are both in keeping with the social conventions of the times, when the position of the head of the family required the father to be somewhat distant and stern, and appropriately feminist for modern sensibilites, with the mother taking the mantle of a more accesible role-model for her kids.
Holmes himself might be a bit more sensitive and less OCD then what we’re used to, but hey – he’s still quite recognizable as an early version of the famous detective; he certainly has the latter’s unwavering focus on the goal and his fascination with mysteries. It’s interesting to see the character’s growth here; still making mistakes and learning from them, gently guided by mother and scoffed at by brother, Sherlock Holmes is visibly a teenager in his formative years.
All in all, I enjoyed this little foray in Victorian London, and Sherlock Holmes again proved to be an excellent company. Even though the plot is on the predictable side, the fact that I solved the mystery early on didn’t diminish my reading pleasure. So, if you want to check out some early cases of young Sherlock Holmes, Sherwood-Fabre’s offering is a good place to start. I for one enjoyed it more than the more thriller-like Andrew Lane’s version for young adults.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher and author through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.