Death Cloud – Young Sherlock Holmes #1

Death Cloud

Author: Andrew Lane

Publication: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2010

Pages: 336

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  Sherlock Holmes is a boy of 14.  When his brother, Mycroft, sends him to spend the summer with an elderly Uncle, Sherlock steels himself for two months of boredom.  But the town of Farnham turns out to hold many secrets.  It isn’t long before Sherlock has befriended a homeless boy named Matty.  Together, the two of them discover a pustule-covered body.  Sherlock’s boundless curiosity won’t let the matter rest, and with the help of Matty and his strange American tutor, Amyus Crowe, Sherlock soon finds himself in a desperate race against time to stop a madmen intent on bringing down the entire British Empire.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: You don’t need to have read any other Sherlock Holmes stories to enjoy this book.  In fact, you don’t need to know anything about him at all for it to be a great read.  But, if you have read any of his stories you might find yourself catching the odd reference to things destined to happen later in Sherlock’s life.

Lane really throws you into the England of the 1800’s here.  The sights –and especially the smells –make it come alive.  Whether Sherlock is navigating a river with a horse-drawn boat, exploring the streets of Farnham, or running for his life in an underground marketplace in the heart of London, it truly feels like you’ve been thrust back in time.

Lane also provides an excellent mix of action and intellect here.  The young Sherlock is no arm chair detective and he has no shortage of scrapes with death, from escaping burning buildings to battling sword-wielding madmen.  But when Sherlock’s not fighting for his life, his mind is on the case, and Lane carefully leads us through the clues that help Sherlock figure out what’s going on.  Plus, during some of the lessons and interactions that Sherlock has with Amyus Crowe, we get to see him developing the talent for deduction that made him the most famous detective in literature.

While there are some adults involved in this story, in the end it really is Sherlock, Matty, and Amyus’s daughter, Virginia, who win the day and stop the villain.  Crowe himself is in the background, but not there at the crucial moments when Sherlock and his companions have to fight for their lives and risk everything to solve the case.

I love the villain in this book, and when he and Sherlock finally meet it is an unbelievably cool scene.

What I Liked the Least: This is a fairly minor point, but it sometimes felt as though the villain and his henchmen were TOO on top of things, catching Sherlock at every turn (which suggests a high level of skill and organization).  And yet, each time Sherlock is caught he’s able to escape using what are ultimately rather unsophisticated plans.  If this villain really had what it takes to keep tracking Sherlock down, to always know where he’s at and what he’s doing, then why wasn’t he able to do a better job of keeping Sherlock locked up?

One other minor point.  There’s a lot of suspicion built up around a woman named Mrs. Eglantine, not that she could be the villain but that she’s somehow out to destroy the Holmes family.  Maybe this is something that will come back in a later book, but all that build-up of suspicion never led anywhere, which just left me feeling disappointed.

How Good was the Action?  Lane provides an excellent combination of chases, fights and near escapes that really keep the action moving, while still managing to weave in a lot of character development, clues, and deduction as Sherlock goes through solving the case.  He does a masterful job.  The fight scenes are intense, and while they’re not gory, Lane doesn’t hesitate to draw blood or even to have Sherlock and his companions kill people when necessary.  Some of the chases are truly great, especially one that takes place deep beneath the streets of London.  It proves that you don’t need fast cars or fancy motorbikes to make an intense chase scene.

The only problem with the action is that towards the end Sherlock pulls off some things that feel a little unrealistic given the kind of fighter he’s been portrayed as earlier in the book.  Basically, Lane has set him up as someone who’s a competent fighter but by no means outstanding.  And yet, at the end, he demonstrates skills that are far beyond what he seems to have had earlier in the book, enabling him to take down some truly vicious opponents.

How Engaging was the Story?   This book was full of fascinating characters, especially the rather mysterious Amyus Crowe.  And as I mentioned above, the villain here is truly unique.  Overall, Lane does an excellent job creating a cast of colorful characters and bringing them to life.

Lane also excels at laying out the mystery and dropping clues for us to pick up on.  It doesn’t take all that long to figure out who the villain is and why they’re killing people, but untangling his larger plot really kept me guessing, and it was fun to watch Sherlock unravel it.

Overall Assessment: I’ve never been a big fan of the original Sherlock Holmes books, but I do like thrillers and mysteries set in Victorian London and this was the perfect blend of Victorian flavor, action, and mystery.  It really reminds of the Young James Bond series in many ways, just set 100 years earlier.  This is one series I’ll definitely be going back to and I’d recommend the same to anyone who likes a good action-packed mystery.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  There is blood, and in the end Sherlock and his friend do kill people, but those acts are not presented as being psychologically easy for either of them.  They suffer from it, and though blood does flow the violence never feels gory or gratuitous.

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