Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is well-known for being the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, a United States Cultural Ambassador, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom under President Barack Obama. He is also a New York Times bestselling author and, less famously but most pertinently for our purposes, an avid Holmesian. The day he decided to team with Anna Waterhouse to pen a series of novels starring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s less renowned Holmes brother, my world became infinitely more joyful.
Although I’ve read many of the Sherlock Holmes books and stories authored by Doyle, I’m far from being a fanatic. His writing is basic, his research disgraceful. I remember reading The Adventure of the Speckled Band in grade school and being annoyed upon learning that, in real life, the snake in question could not have climbed vertically up a bell cord, thus negating Holmes’ solution. Doyle mysteries would earn a solid 3 stars from me if I were to review them here. Fun diversions, but certainly not among the best fiction I’ve ever read. Yet few bodies of fiction have opened up such a rich world and launched so many fabulous interpretations and homages as the Sherlock Holmes canon. The Abdul-Jabbar/Waterhouse interpretation is the latest of many gifts inspired by that fine mustachioed fellow.
With a mustache like that, King Edward had no choice but to knight him.
First of all, I have to note that I read these books out of order. I received Mycroft and Sherlock for Christmas and, after speeding through it, I had to go back and read the first in the series. I recommend reading them in order (that is, reading Mycroft Holmes first), to avoid spoilers. That said, I enjoyed Mycroft and Sherlock a tiny bit more, because for one thing, characters were more firmly established at this point, and second, more Sherlock.
When we meet Mycroft Holmes, he is a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate working for the Secretary of State for War. His closest friend is Cyrus Douglas, a black man and former sailor from Trinidad. At the start of this novel, I was a bit underwhelmed by the relationship and characterization of these two leads. It seemed that the authors were simply mimicking the Holmes/Watson relationship of the classic stories, with Mycroft making swift and impossible deductions with Douglas being flummoxed by his friend’s thought process, albeit with a sharper and more dangerous edge. Douglas’ response is less “by jove, how ever did you deduce that, Holmes,” and more “WTF are you on about Mycroft, and tell me quickly before I smack you upside the head.” Douglas isn’t a pushover, and he isn’t Mycroft’s “Boswell,” either. We’re also introduced to Georgianna, Mycroft’s fiancé, who unfortunately never really elevates herself above a supporting actress role. Nevertheless, once the characters and background are established, the story moves swiftly, moving from the streets of London to the open seas to Trinidad. Along the way, the authors touch upon the realities of the times, such as poverty, prejudice, and slavery. Douglas secretly owns a tobacco shop but needs to pretend to be an employee to protect his business. That Georgianna’s education is unusual is noted, along with the fact that, due to being female, she’ll never actually have the opportunity to do anything meaningful with her education. At one point, she says accusingly to Douglas,
“. . .what of me? Am I to do nothing while former slaves are given more rights in England than I as a woman will ever hope to achieve? The right to vote. . . .how long have I been dreaming of that?”
“It is an unfair world,” Douglas interjected coldly.
In Mycroft and Sherlock, we see more of the relationship between the Holmes brothers. At this point, Mycroft is 26 and Sherlock nearly 19. Where Mycroft is swiftly becoming a career politician, interested in power and influence, Sherlock is drawn to the macabre. The complexity of their relationship is highlighted, as Mycroft seems to want to control and inspire his younger brother simultaneously. That Mycroft cares about his brother is obvious, but their relationship is. . .well, it’s complicated.
These novels aren’t perfect. They aren’t going to win the Man Booker Prize or any other prestigious award. I could point out flaws, but I’m not going to because the Holmes brothers (and Cyrus Douglas) bring me such unadulterated joy. These are books where I get to the last page and immediately wish for more, as if Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse know my psyche and wrote something specifically to entertain me.
So my dear authors, if you are listening, all I can say is, “More, please!”