Title: Young Sherlock Holmes: Red Leech
Author: Andrew Lane
My Age Recommendation: 11+
Publisher: Macmillan (read on Kobo E-reader Touch)
Publication Date: November 2010
Sherlock knows that Amyus Crow, his mysterious American tutor, has some dark secrets. But he didn't expect to find a notorious killer, hanged by the US government, apparently alive and well in Surrey - and Crow somehow mixed up in it. When no one will tell you the truth, sometimes you have to risk all to discover it for yourself. And so begins an adventure that will take Sherlock across the ocean to America, to the centre of a deadly web - where life and death are cheap, and truth has a price no sane person would pay…
This was a disappointing book. It’s the second episode in what’s an ongoing series about the legendary detective as a teenager and I went into it excited to read. I’m a big fan of the Young Bond novels by Charlie Higson and this had that kind of potential. Sherlock Holmes is such a rich character from an emotional and psychological perspective that transporting him to YA-hood and ramping up the action seemed like a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, while the concept – John Wilkes Booth is alive and kicking and being used as a Southern figurehead at the end of the American Civil War – is a clever one, it never really takes flight. The big baddie only shows up close to the end and Sherlock’s escape from his dastardly death scene is almost farcically easy. The villains are almost literally looking the other way while he flees.
It’s a shame, because the character of Sherlock’s mentor Amyus Crowe is an interesting one, as is the repulsive nemesis, whose unique medical situation is squirm-inducing. And I like that Lane hasn’t tried to shoehorn in Watson, instead going for a local lad whose friendship with the hero feels straightforward and honest. This is not the complex detective we know and love, but a much more ebullient, clear-eyed though obviously intelligent boy.
But the writing is so superficial that you never really peer beneath the surface of any of the characters. Holmes’s budding romance is kiboshed by the girl staying in her room during a long sea voyage. The author gives a reason for it, but it smacks of narrative flannelling.
I might have just been the victim of the writer’s ‘difficult second book syndrome’ and it would be shame if Sherlock’s teen adventures were ignored because of one false move. But I might sate myself for the time being with the excellent Young Sherlock Holmes movie from the Eighties.
That at least has the sort of emotional depth, scares and tragedy that befits such a literary titan.