Thursday, 10 May 2012

Young Sherlock Holmes:Fire Storm

Sherlock Holmes, the most famous of British detectives is enjoying a purple patch of recognition. Mark Gatiss' reinvention of Sherlock for BBC TV starring the pitch-perfect Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous sleuth, with Martin Freeman as the esteemable Dr. Watson, has been a gold mine of critical acclaim and a new audience to appreciate the resident of 221b Baker Street for the 21st century.  Coupled with the two Guy Ritchie movies of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law; Sherlock seems to have found this ability like James Bond to be a cultural figure ripe for re-invention and re-interpretation.

In the same vein as Charlie Higson's Young James Bond novels, Andrew Lane has quietly gone about his business in re-establishing the mythology of Sherlock with his Young Sherlock Holmes novels.  I have had the pleasure of reading the fourth such novel, Fire Storm, which follows the young sleuth on a trek to Scotland to track down his friend who has disappeared along with her father.

Lane has a lot of fun with the writing, there is a real zip about the set-up and scenarios in which Holmes and his young accomplice, Matthew Arnett the layman to Holmes' precocious genius.  The set pieces at the start involving the horrible Harkness are effectively rendered - enough description of location and action are done with an effortless streak. There is a pace to the structure of the scenes that make you eager to turn the page and get thrust into the moment.

There are lovely moments where Holmes is rendered dumbfounded by the common language, 'I will be as happy as Larry'.
       'Who is Larry?' Sherlock asked.
       Matty stared at him. 'It's just an expression,' he said. 'People say it all the time.'
       'I've never heard it.'
       'As I said, you should get out more. Mix with people.'

Lane is able to take the shortfalls of Holmes that we are familiar with; his inability to interact socially with people beneath him ('You think too much. Anybody ever told you that?'), his aloofness with the working classes (Holmes is born into money) and there is even mention of Holmes' predilection to morphine is mentioned as possibly a hereditary problem built into the Holmes DNA.

Much like the work Miles Millar and Alfred Gough did with Superman with the popular Smallville television series, incorporating the legend and myth of the comic book hero as we see the young boy slowly become more aware of his responsibilites.  Holmes is leading a similar path, learning more and more about society in general helped by the enabler Matthew, much like Watson would become in his adult life.

Lane also does well to not make you alien to the surroundings.  I have not read any of the other three titles - Death Cloud, Red Leech, Black Ice - yet Fire Storm is a story of its own merits, making the reader enjoy this story without having to have prior knowledge of the previous adventures.

The conclusion in Scotland which features kidnappers, bodysnatchers, nasty villains is a brilliant story that is told concisely and with great confidence by a writer enjoying his niche market at this particular moment.

Young Sherlock Holmes: Fire Storm is out now in paperback by PanMacmillan and is suitable for readers over the age of 11.

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