Many of us mystery fans came to the genre by way of Sherlock Holmes. While there’s a lot of dispute about who actually “invented” the mystery story (Wilkie Collins? Edgar Allan Poe?), nearly everybody acknowledges that Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the earliest leading lights in the writing of mysteries. Not only are there the original stories and novels (the canon), but in the century since Sherlock Holmes hung up his deerstalker cap and meerschaum pipe, many people have taken it on themselves to add to the collection, either writing new Sherlock Holmes stories themselves (The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz, is an especially good recent one), or writing about the great detective from other perspectives (Laurie King’s series featuring Mary Russell, who marries Holmes after the end of the original series and continues to work with him to solve mysteries, is very popular). Some people have even looked at Holmes through the eyes of the villains (and here I have to give a plug to the wonderful and offbeat The Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman, whose main character and narrator, the anti-Watson, is Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s chief henchman).
And now the newest addition to the genre comes to the library this week. Mycroft Holmes, written by Kareem Abdul Jabbar (yes, that Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Anna Waterhouse, features Sherlock Holmes’ older and smarter brother, Mycroft. Mycroft appears in a few of the stories, his skills and powers alluded to and sometimes demonstrated, sparking the plots and sometimes helping point Sherlock in the direction of a solution, but he’s in the background, never a main character, until now.
The book opens with Mycroft, fresh out of university and already recognized as an up and coming man in the Department of War. He’s engaged to be married (a detail that’s already intriguing, given that our introduction to Mycroft in the canon was Holmes and Watson’s joining him at the Diogenes Club, for the most solitary and unclubbable men in London) to a young woman brought up in Trinidad, and his close friend, Cyrus Douglas, also came originally from Trinidad. Reports arise of disturbing events on Trinidad: children enticed to their deaths, allegedly by evil spirits, mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand. Cyrus heads out to investigate, and, to Mycroft’s surprise, his fiancee tells him she has to leave him to return to Trinidad and right things. Naturally, Mycroft himself has to follow, joining up with Cyrus to try to unravel the mystery, which (also naturally) turns out to be much less supernatural and more appalling than either one had originally suspected.
Along the way, there’s a wealth of historical detail, including insights into race and class in the 1870’s, a glimpse of a young Sherlock Holmes getting ready for university, and good old fashioned rousing adventure and danger. By the end of the book, Mycroft’s later and more famous character is set up, and we can only hope this is the beginning of a series, with this intelligent and very different pair of sleuths and this different slant on the late Victorian era and the British Empire.
If you’re a Sherlock fan, be sure to pick this up. And if you’re just a fan of historical mysteries, give Mycroft Holmes a try as well.