Mycroft and Sherlock
In the first book of this series, we mostly get Mycroft, who if I recall correctly was living abroad in the foreign service and solving his own little mysteries (they’re actually quite big mysteries really). Now Mycroft is returned to England and knows he needs to check on his brother, who is becoming quite the layabout. Well, only in the sense that’s refuses to be a grownup and figure out a career and its prospects. Sherlock is shown here as deeply frenetic, and his characterization in this novel leans heavily into the “Sherlock Holmes is on the spectrum” kind of way. Not directly, but you can feel it in there.
Anyway, the novel deals with a mystery surrounding a series of murders in London that are connected to a notorious boys school. It also involves a football match between England and Scotland, and the weather.
Like all Holmes pastiche, it makes its mistakes but in the fundamental sense. Holmes has to be rendered through a consciousness like Watson’s, otherwise, he’s not Holmes. By putting Holmes in third person narration, it strips Holmes of Watson’s warmth and regard and relegates him in a cold way. All fictional attempts to capture Holmes otherwise work more like movie versions in which we see the actors’ choices more than any real attempt at Holmes being real and earnest. And so like all versions of Holmes (including Doyle’s) the mystery takes backseat to the characterization, and without Doyle and Watson, it’s lacking here. I do like the Mycroft character however, and always have.
The Empty Birdcage
The biggest gap in a lot of British literature, but certainly Sherlock Holmes stories and novels is how local they are. A large chunk of the first novel “takes place” in America through the narration of a story about Mormons, and there’s a story with the KKK. Mostly though the stories take place in or around London, or within a train’s ride away. In this series of books the authors have moved some of the action and a lot of the back story to colonial spaces, and because of Mycroft’s positioning within the government, his important keeps him in those spaces. They also invent and include a lot more characters of color to better represent the actual diversity of 19th century United Kingdom. In addition, Doyle had the problem of setting his books within his contemporary time more or less, and so while there are some references here and there to the goings on, mostly there’s not. Having the time to look past history and to think about what events would have influenced and been part of the lexicon of contemporary England does help this story. It’s a perfectly admirable ending to a perfectly admirable book series. The strengths that are present in book one are still here and the limits and weaknesses are too.