Young Sherlock Holmes - Death Cloud 

'The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. His life is that of a perfectly ordinary army officer's son: boarding school, good manners, a classical education - the backbone of the British Empire. But all that is about to change. With his father suddenly posted to India, and his mother mysteriously 'unwell', Sherlock is sent to stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt in their vast house in Hampshire. So begins a summer that leads Sherlock to uncover his first murder, a kidnap, corruption and a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent...'
Young Sherlock Holmes - Death Cloud is a 2010 children's book written by Andy Lane and follows in the footsteps of Charlie Higson's Young James Bond novels to present us with a schoolboy version of Conan Doyle's mythic hero Sherlock Holmes - here grappling with his first mystery and flexing those legendary embryonic deductive powers.
This is a fast paced and generally entertaining book that younger readers and curious Holmes enthusiasts should enjoy. The story is written in a relatively prosaic manner but then you probably don't expect Martin Amis when you pick up a book like this and the Victorian atmosphere and depiction of life at school for Sherlock is certainly well done. It's a bit Scooby Doo but I did like the central mystery here and had fun with the book as far as it went.
In 'Young Sherlock Holmes - Death Cloud', our teenage hero is sent away to live with relatives in Hampshire and befriends an Artful Dodger type boy named Matty Arnatt. Matty was witness to a strange death involving a dark cloud and Holmes is soon becoming drawn into his first major case.
'That was when he saw the cloud of death. Not that he knew what it was, then. That would come later. No, all he saw was a dark stain the size of a large dog that seemed to drift from an open window like smoke, but smoke that moved with a mind of its own, pausing for a moment and then flowing sideways to a drainpipe where it turned and slid up towards the roof. Hunger forgotten, Matthew watched open-mouthed as the cloud drifted over the sharp edge of the roof tiles and vanished out of sight...'
Holmes is further embroiled in his first mystery when he finds a dead body on the estate and is witness to the strange cloud of death himself. He takes a sample of a strange substance he finds on the body of the dead man and heads off to consult an expert in rare diseases.
Young Sherlock Holmes - Death Cloud is approached in a respectful and affectionate manner in relation to the adult Holmes we are familiar with. Dr Watson is not here because Holmes only met him in A Study In Scarlet (the book is therefore written in the third person rather than presented as one of Watson's files) and no Inspector Lestrade either.
One of the main challenges of the author was to surround Holmes with a memorable supporting cast without use of these familiar figures and he does this pretty well. I especially liked the villain Baron Maupertuis - who is gloriously over the top. The book has a smattering of blood and a lot of chases and action but never steps over the line and becomes too Young Indiana Jones Sherlock.
This is more faithful to the canon than that enjoyable but flawed Young Sherlock Holmes film and tries to sow the seeds of some of the characteristics and quirks of the adult character. Holmes is not the aloof eccentric of the Conan Doyle books but he is a loner who doesn't quite know how to make friends. Lane introduces a mentor for him in the shape of an American tutor named Amyus Crowe.
Crowe is in Britain on secret business for the US government but is hired by Holmes' older brother Mycroft to teach him. Crowe is a wise old man with a big beard who knows how to track people down and is a vast font of practical knowledge. Holmes learns a great deal from Crowe that he will put to use in his future crime fighting career.
Mycroft, who we were always led to suspect might be even more brilliant than his younger brother, is well sketched out here and already on the ladder in espionage circles. He's also very plump already (as described in the novels) and much older than his younger brother.
Nice early meeting between them at the school where Mycroft is impressed when Holmes tells him he has deduced that he travelled in their father's carriage. 'I noticed the parallel creases in your trousers where the upholstery pressed them, and I remember that Father's carriage has a tear in the upholstery that was repaired rather clumsily a few years ago. The impression of that repair is pressed into your trousers, next to the creases...'
Little moments like this are frequently the book at its most rewarding. Young Sherlock Holmes - Death Cloud is a decent read and one I think that children will like. Imagine a loose cross between Harry Potter and the Young Bond novels and you are not a million miles away. It's a fair sized read at over 300 pages and curious Holmes fans and younger readers should enjoy this as a decent, old fashioned yarn that serves as a fun riff on this most famous of characters.
- Jake

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