If you were the right age in 1985 you might remember the movie Young Sherlock in which Nicholas Rowe channels Indiana Jones rather than a young Basil Rathbone. My main memory of it is a scene in which the sweet-loving schoolboy Watson hallucinates an attack of pastries. So let me say straight off — no homicidal eclairs, drugs, or for that matter any sort of Watson populate the latest envisioning of a young Sherlock Holmes: Andrew Lane’s Death Cloud.
Instead there is a melancholy fourteen-year-old forced to spend his school holidays with remote relatives since his mother is unwell and his father off to India. An ominous housekeeper, a scruffy canal-boat friend, a pair of intriguing Yankees, some scary evil-doers, and a very-Conan-Doyle-like mystery keep our young hero on his toes throughout this very entertaining work. Since I’m currently making my through the Holmes canon (I find Victorian writing perfect to listen to while running), I was a bit skeptical at the outset, but quickly won over. While no Sherlockian, my impression is that Lane has done a nice job dusting his novel with elements from the actual Holmes tales in addition to providing a seemingly (there’s a bibliography at the end) well-researched window into British life under Victoria. Certainly, the story itself is as compelling as any of Conan Doyle’s.
My one slight raised eyebrow came when one of the Americans said that we rebelled against the British “Not by tricks and schemes and secret plans.” Hmmm….Boston Tea Party anyone? Since the next installment, Rebel Fire, is set across the pond I’m curious if this is in keeping with similar historical mishaps by Conan Doyle himself or wishful thinking on the part of Andrew Lane. However, that’s just me; young readers won’t care a whit (nor should they) and will just eagerly turn the page to see what happens next. And when done, like me, they will be impatient for the next in the series as Lane leaves many tantalizing threads unfinished.