2015; 336 pages. Book One (out of 2, if you include comics) of the “Mycroft Holmes” series. New Author? : Yes and Yes. Genre : British Detectives; Thriller; Mystery. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Full disclosure. We had a 2-volume “Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes” on the family bookshelf when I was a kid, and I read those stories – both the long ones and the short ones – over and over again. My favorite character was neither the infallible Sherlock Holmes nor the unflappable Doctor Watson.
Instead, it was Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft Holmes. He was a bit character. I would have said he only appeared in two stories, but Wikipedia says it was four, and I trust Wiki over my own memory on this.
Mycroft was even more brilliant and discerning than Sherlock. But he had no ambition to get out of his chair and go investigate and prove his hypotheses, since, well, he was supremely confident that he was correct. Which vexed his younger brother greatly.
I consider Mycroft to be a worthy role model.
What’s To Like...
Mycroft Holmes is the debut fiction novel by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with the help of a co-author, Anna Waterhouse. I don’t think this is merely a crass case of name-dropping. Kareem had already penned a number of non-fiction works, mostly about his basketball career and his black heritage. The man can write.
I liked that Mycroft is not a clone of Sherlock, and I liked that the storyline was not a cheap imitation of an Arthur Conan Doyle tale. There is certainly a crime to be solved – someone is killing children on Trinidad for no rational reason. But overall, this is more of a thriller story than a murder-mystery.
The settings are kewl – 1870, first in London (to tie in to the Sherlock Holmes timeline), then on a slow boat to the Caribbean, and finally on Trinidad and its surrounding islands. It is obvious that the book was well-researched, with lots of details given about the settings, and without sounding like an info dump. I enjoyed learning about the “Merikens” on Trinidad, and presume this was factual, and chuckled at the mention of “shoofly pie”. Yum yum!
There are 49 chapters, which cover 336 pages, so you can always find a convenient place to stop for the night. There’s a smidgen of Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian thrown into the text, and I liked that. You’ll also learn to fear the douen (the lost souls of dead children) and the lougarou (vampire mosquitoes). There is some mild cussing (“piss” and “shit”), and of course, some violence. This should be expected when reading a thriller. The “sparring sessions” between Mycroft and Sherlock (both the physical and the verbal ones) are a complete delight. Overall, this was a fast and easy read.
Beyond all the thrills and spills and Holmesian detecting, there are some serious topics woven into the plotline. Kareem is, of course, black, and a practicing Muslim as well. So there are sub-themes of racial and religious tolerance here, something you won’t find in Conan Doyle’s stories, nor in the real world of 1870 England and its Caribbean colonies.
Kewlest New Word...
Jumbie Beads (n.) : West Indian trees which have seeds that are often made into a bracelet, and which, when ground up, are quite toxic.
Others : Crepuscular (adj.); Ideologue (n.); Chatelaine (n.)
“I am quite unsettled that I am once again forced to ask this question,” he said, “but what on earth was that about?”
“I have much to tell you,” Holmes replied with a smile. “But first, what do you infer?”
“Aside from the fact that you can be an insufferable ass?” Douglas shot back.
“That aside, yes,” Holmes replied equitably, folding his thumbs together, his index fingers tapping against each other. (loc. 1813)
“Perhaps you should have mentioned sooner the folly of this venture,” Little Huan said with a smile.
Holmes smiled back. It was the most he had ever heard the young man say in one breath, and he was gratified to know the lad had humor, as well as strength.
“The foolish will tread where the wise will not,” Holmes replied. “If we waited for the wisdom of this venture, Douglas and I would still be in London.”
“To fools, then!” Little Huan exclaimed.
“To fools!” the others declared. (loc. 3555)
Mycroft Holmes sells for $8.99 at Amazon. There is a sequel, of sorts, titled Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, but it is in comic book omnibus format. It sells for $9.99. As mentioned above, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written another dozen or so books, mostly non-fiction, and quite often with co-authors. His non-fiction books are mostly about his basketball experiences and about black heritage. The e-book versions of these books are in the $4.17-$14.99 price range.
“My dear, you have lived in London four long years – does the Thames still charm you?” (loc. 612)
The quibbles are minor.
The action starts immediately in the Prologue, but when the scene then shifts to England, things slow down markedly as the authors take great pains to describe the details of Victorian London. Admittedly, those details are impressive, but if you’re already familiar with the locale (i.e., if you’ve already read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series), then things can get a bit tedious.
Ditto for the voyage across the Atlantic. Although we (and Mycroft) pick up some important clues along the way, we also spend a lot of time chitchatting away the hours and trying to avoid being seasick. At times, the story bordered on being “TMD” (“too many details).
But I pick at nits. Mycroft Holmes is a literary delight, and probably the best Sherlock Holmes spin-off I’ve read since the copyright expired on Conan Doyle’s characters, and every Tom, Dick, and Laurie started writing mediocre take-offs of that fantastic series, and which pale in comparison to the original.
8 Stars. I get the impression that Kareem was not totally satisfied with Mycroft Holmes, since the only sequel(s) are in comic book format. I’m not all that big on graphic novels (although I enjoyed both Watchmen and a couple of the Girl Genius ones), so unless Kareem returns to writing full-length fiction novels, this is probably the first and last of his books that I'll end up reading.