Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010)
Historical / Action / Mystery
The first in Lane’s new series, Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins, Death Cloud follows a fourteen-year-old Sherlock as he embarks on his first investigation – one that begins with two grotesquely swollen corpses and ends with a plot to topple the British Empire. Lane’s command of the material is impressive as he weaves in multiple threads and details that hint at the man the boy will become. The fast-paced, energetic plot is both fun and informative (semaphores and the Crimean War are deftly explained) as Lane pushes the young Holmes through teenage alienation, a first-crush and multiple attempts on his life, at break-neck speed.
Death Cloud is a solid book and will no doubt appeal to boys between the ages of 10-14. Lane’s Sherlock is a compellingly flawed protagonist (just as Doyle’s original is). My only complaint is that some of the action felt superfluous – a bit more deduction and bit less scrapping would have given the remaining action more punch. The climactic swordfight also verged on the preposterous with Sherlock battling an evil Baron whose movements are controlled by a series of ropes and pulleys. However, these complaints are small, and the elements in question will no doubt fail to offend Lane’s intended readership. A good introduction to a classic character, as well as to the concept of deduction and the Victorian era, Death Cloud would be a strong edition to a classroom list of elective titles or a unit on Victorian history.