Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Death Cloud

Death Cloud
Andrew Lane
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011  336 pgs.
Grades 7-10
Mystery/Adventure/Historical Fiction
Series: Sherlock Holmes: the Legend Begins #1

What was Sherlock Holmes like as a teenager?  Lane explores the youth of this famous character in this series for young people.  Sherlock is just completing his term at boarding school when his brother, Mycroft, whisks him away to stay with estranged relatives in their quiet British country house.  What starts out as a boring summer heats up as Sherlock makes a new friend, street urchin Maddy, and starts working with unconventional American tutor, Amyus Crowe.  Crowe and Sherlock discover a body in the woods and, after a second body is discovered, set out to find the cause of death.  The local doctor thinks the plague has returned, but Crowe is not so sure. Eventually it is discovered that the men have died of bee stings and the bees are tracked down to the evil and sickly Baron Maupertuis.  After much digging around, Sherlock is captured by the Barron and almost killed.  Sherlock  escapes and the investigation continues, taking the whole company, including Crowe's daughter Virginia, to London.  After a hair-raising chase through the slums of London and a brutal tunnel fire, Sherlock and Virginia are again captured by the Barron, drugged, and dragged to France.  Once in France the Barron attempts to kill Sherlock off for good.  First he has a big "Scooby-Doo" confession in which he reveals his whole evil plot of killing the entire British army by killer bee stings and his motivation for doing so to Sherlock since he is about to be killed anyways.  Again, Sherlock escapes with Virginia and the group returns to England.  The Barron is still at large, but the bee plan is thwarted.  What further adventures await Sherlock?  Find out in the next installment: Rebel Fire.

Sherlock Holmes has recently experienced a resurgence thanks to the new-ish BBC series Sherlock, which has become a cult favorite with smart teenagers.  Teens are turning to the original adventures of Sherlock Homes, but many find them tough going and a little dry.  The new television series takes the original stories, puts them in a contemporary setting, and stars the dashing Benedict Cumbererbatch, a far cry from Arthur Conan Doyle's character.  The series Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins is a perfect choice for teens interested in Sherlock Holmes, but not quiet ready to tackle the originals.  Lane imagines what Sherlock was like as a teenager, how he got into his hobbies enjoyed in adulthood (playing the violin, boxing, beekeeping), and, perhaps most importantly, how he developed his keen reasoning skills.  Lane takes some creative license with the character in order to make him accessible to a teen audience.  The plot is a bit frantic and moves quickly, again to appeal to teens.  This series feels similar to the "James Bond Adventures" series, featuring Bond as a teenager, by Higson and is more thriller than mystery.  The mystery is there, but takes a back seat the action and adventure.  This will appeal to reluctant readers and those interested in adventure and Lane never stops delivering the action and plot twists.  Featuring a well known character will create a ready-made audience for the book and perhaps encourage kids to pick it up.  In the process the reader will learn a bit about nineteenth century life in England, beekeeping, and logic.  Is this the best mystery ever written?  Perhaps not, but it is time well spent and an enjoyable read.

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