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.
“One day, everyone’s going to know your name.” – Mycroft.
He had no idea how right he was, but this isn’t just a biography of the famous sleuth. This is a (currently five-book) series that you should enjoy if you can answer ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions:
Have you ever wondered what Sherlock was like as a 14 year old?
Do you like books with older settings… say, 1868?
Most importantly, do you adventure stories?
Personally I like them for the adventure and because I love backstory; you don’t need to be a Sherlock Holmes mega-fan or love your period stories to enjoy these. (A certain Mr Cumberbatch was the first Holmes I ever liked, and these are the first books.)
Set in England in 1868, the series introduces us to a 14 year old version of the famous sleuth, before Baker Street, before John, Irene or Moriarty, before there was animosity between Sherlock and Mycroft; he actually admits to admiring his older brother, who for some reason is fat. Is that something from the books I’m not familiar with?
Instead of a wounded soldier for a sidekick, he’s sent to the country to live with his aunt and uncle where he gets involved with his first serial killer and meets some new friends; his tutor, Amyus Crowe, Crowe’s daughter Virginia and street urchin Matty Arnot. His tutor teaches him more than just math, and there’s a good set up for how the reader knows Sherlock to be in later life; in book two he meets the person who gives him his first violin lessons.
It’s set in its time period without feeling too much. They travel by carriage instead of car, boat or train instead of plane, they send telegrams and there’s even history worked in – book two involves John Wilkes Booth – but it never feels dated or like a history lesson, or assume any previous knowledge.
There’s adventure and danger, and it’s written for the younger audience without patronizing them; as someone who grew up on The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, they feel like books you might grow into after those. This Sherlock doesn’t solve the entire mystery from his armchair after noticing a speck of dust (exactly what I hated about the short stories), but he does notice the speck of dust, even if he doesn’t realize he has until later.
If you prefer adventure over romance – has Holmes ever been much of a one for romance? – these should keep you pretty happy. In two books he’s only gotten as far as admitting that “for some reason, he really didn’t want Virginia to leave.” Leave England, that is.
I should point out that I’ve been listening to the audiobooks. Perhaps the three-hours-at-a-time dosage is why I’m able to enjoy them when I don’t usually like period settings. They’re read by Dan Stevens in an easy-to-listen-to-voice and with fun voice changes for the various characters.
I would definitely recommend them; although a lot of the appeal for me is my love of backstories, it still has plenty of excitement and a good story that is complex without getting too confusing.