Friday, April 15, 2011

Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

In the Summer of 1868, Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. He's been away at school, and he's expected to go home and spend time with his brother Mycroft. But Mycroft's job with the government means that he doesn't have time to look after Sherlock himself, and instead, he sends his brother to spend time with his Uncle Sherrinford and Aunt Anna, neither of whom really want to look after Sherlock for the summer, but Mycroft has little choice, as an especially bad situation is shaping up overseas that he must take care of.

But in the meantime, Sherlock is expected to keep up his schoolwork, and his brother Mycroft has engaged a tutor on Sherlock's behalf, an American who is there to give him an education he can't get in school. Shortly after he arrives in the country, Sherlock finds and befriends a boy named Mattew Arnatt, who witnessed a strange event that he can't get out of his head. A man in town died in what everyone was sure was the plague or black death. But Matthew saw a strange black cloud come out of the man's window and fly against the wind up the side of the house and away. Sherlock is intrigued by this and decides to investigate what might have happened, as a cloud that moves against the wind isn't logical.

In this, he is helped by his new tutor, Amycus Crowe, a hunter from America. Sherlock wonders what kind of hunter would need to know all the things that Amycus is teaching him, which is less about knowledge from books and more about logic and deductions. Amycus reveals he was a bounty hunter, a hunter of men. And man is the most devious animal in the world, and it takes all the knowledge and observations one can make to catch them.

More deaths occur, and the region begins to believe that an outbreak of disease will lead to a quarantine. But aided by Matthew, Amycus, and Amycus's daughter, Virginia, he begins to believe he has discovered the nature of the cloud. But who is using it to kill and why are they killing? As Sherlock follows the killers from England to France, he is discovered, and he and Virginia are menaced by the killer and their method of killing. But can Sherlock pull out a save of not only himself, but Virginia as well, and turn the weapon back on the killers before they can use their weapon of death to injure England's ability to protect itself? And can Sherlock keep himself alive when he is trapped on an island with the killers?

I loved this book. I loved the old "Young Sherlock Holmes"movie, and this promised more of the same, seeing what Sherlock was like before we met him in "A Study in Scarlet". This actually shows him as he was before he learned so much of logic and how to collect facts to solve his mysteries and inculcates in him a love of knowledge that school had not, because as Amycus Crowe points out to him, if he doesn't have knowledge, all the thinking in the world won't help him when it comes to solving the problems that mystify him.

I also liked that Sherlock wasn't paired with a young Watson, but another boy who is just as interesting as Sherlock himself. At this point in time, Sherlock is amazingly intelligent, but his learning is all book learning, and his new friend Matthew is also intelligent, but has far more experience in survival and street knowledge, which doesn't prevent them from learning from each other or being friends. Indeed, Matthew becomes just as much a student of Amycus Crowe as Sherlock does, and seeing them work together was lovely. I also liked the like/dislike relationship between Sherlock and Virginia Crowe, as it presages that they might end up falling for each other, but because we know that Sherlock never has any sort of relationship with any woman, I don't forsee a happy ending for their relationship if they do end up having one.

Amycus Crowe is one of my favorite characters in the book. Salty but real, pretending to be just the sort of hick that one would expect to come out of the American West, he's far more intelligent and canny than he lets on at first, even to Sherlock. But it's the support of Crowe and his vindication of Sherlock's knowledge and deductions that allow the story to succeed, and I love reading about the sort of stuff, he teaches Sherlock which helps him grow into the kind of man he becomes later.

This is the first book in a new series, and if this book is any indication of how good the rest of the books will be, I honestly can't wait to see the rest, and there is already a second book in the works, Rebel Fire, that will be out in the Fall. I am definitely looking forward to reading it when it comes out. If you are looking for an excellent mystery in the Sherlock Holmes style, this book can't be beat, and will appeal not only to teenagers, but older and adult readers as well. Highly recommended. Pick this one up. You won't be sorry you did.

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