Book Review: Young Sherlock Holmes - Fire Storm / Author: Andrew Lane / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Galaxy / Release Date: May 5th
As with the characters of Shakespeare, each generation tends to remake Sherlock Holmes in its own image. In the Fifties we had Technicolor Holmes, in the Seventies Holmes on the psychiatrist's couch, in the Eighties heritage Holmes. Right now, we have the uber-geek of the BBC TV series, and Andrew Lane's young Sherlock, a politically correct friend-to-all vexed by ongoing family issues.
The fourth book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series, Fire Storm finds our teen sleuth encamped with an unsympathetic uncle and aunt in a dull little market town. There's an evil housekeeper to outwit, a blackmailer to foil, and a tannery-cum-baddie-HQ to run riot in. Then the story broadens its scope – Sherlock's mentor, American bounty hunter Amyus Crowe, suddenly flees from a mysterious threat, and it’s off to Scotland for hijinks in the heather and an encounter with a nasty clan of kilt-clad malefactors.
It's all presented by Lane in an easy, breezy style that's not so easy and breezy that it jars with the Victorian setting. The dialogue is well-managed, making gestures towards the period without being slavish to it. (With only the occasional glaring anachronism, as when Holmes utters that popular 19th century rejoinder, “Dream on.”) The milieu, too, has a pleasing solidity. Lane is good on the layouts of houses and the regimes of their inhabitants, and there's chatty sidekick Matty to provide dollops of extra info, usually appended with, “You ought to get out more, Sherlock,” by way of justification for our young hero's ignorance.
Where Lane is less successful is in infusing all this with the distinctive Holmesian atmosphere – that blend of the cerebral and the darkly mysterious. It doesn't help that the first half of the novel is set in small town Surrey (there's plenty to be said for the Home Counties, but they don't exactly ooze menace, not like foggy London or the brooding expanses of Dartmoor.) Even when the scene shifts to Scotland, though, the chills don't race down the spine. Part of the problem is Lane's lukewarm, no-nonsense, matter-of-fact style, which works against the story in moments of what should be mounting tension.
Then there's the pacing. The action sequences are lively enough, but between come huge lulls as Sherlock debates what it all means and puzzles in leisurely fashion over various riddles. This riddle-solving business – in theory, Sherlock's shtick – is a particular bore. Conan Doyle's puzzles are also mysteries – an eeriness attaches to them, even after they are solved. Lane's, by contrast, provoke an irritated scratching of the head and an impulse to skip forward to the solution.
And what of young Sherlock? Despite hints of manic depression in the family, he comes across as a nice, approachable, outward-going type, rather high principled, and with progressive social views: “It occurred to him that the British system of working class, middle class and upper class people was not only pointless and archaic, but damaging to the very fabric of society.” Holmes as the champion of the lower classes – it would be news to Mrs. Hudson.
There's a reason why he's a bit, well, normal. The whole Young Sherlock Holmes series is predicated on the notion of the boy becoming the great detective through a succession of adventures which influence his character and teach him important lessons in sleuthing (in the next installment, Snake Bite, he's off to China to learn martial arts.) Although this could well make good sense in publishing terms, it diminishes Holmes and undermines his appealing eccentricity. You can see why Lane wouldn't want to give the impression that his young Sherlock was born with a Meerschaum in his mouth, but, with rather more emphasis on what makes Holmes unique and rather less on what makes him like everyone else, Fire Storm might have had more of the flavour of Conan Doyle's celebrated originals.