The idea of Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar caught my attention. A novel about Sherlock Holmes’ mysterious brother written by that Time columnist (who I am told was some sort of basketball person) and self-described biggest Sherlock Holmes fan? Of course!
I’ve read all of the Holmes stories, although mostly during junior high, so some of it’s a bot foggy. However, I have seen Moffet’s take on Holmes in Sherlock and the Jeremy Brett version, so I’m more familiar than I might be. In each adaptation, Mycroft, Sherlock’s older, smarter brother, appears occasionally, tells Sherlock what an absolute moron he’s being, and then drifts out of the narrative once more, so I was really interested in Abdul-Jabbar’s interpretation.
I don’t know how a true Holmes fanatic might feel about it, but I quite enjoyed it. Both the early setting of Victorian London and the later move to the Caribbean felt authentic and real. The characters, as befits a novel set in the Victorian age, are intensely aware of social standing which was a needed touch. One of the characters, Douglas, is a black man from Trinidad and people’s various reactions to him are both telling of their outlook and upbringing, and also have an added layer of realism (I can’t help but thinking that Abdul-Jabbar’s experience of being a black man encountering various people from all levels of society as a professional basketball player informed this part of the novel). Even the characters’ reactions to women ring true for the time. Abdul-Jabbar had a female co-writer, Anna Waterhouse which might have been an influence, although her name is far less prominent on the cover and in the promotional materials.
As you might guess, this is a mystery. It’s not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and since those are both cannon and tricky to emulate, I’m glad that it isn’t. The mystery is intricate, yes, but the authors play fair with the clues, something that traditional Holmes mysteries didn’t always do, since Watson is our narrator and Sherlock doesn’t always play fair with his knowledge and deductions until the end. I wasn’t able to leap ahead with my guesses (while watching a TV show recently, I had it all figured out by the second scene), nor was I left behind when the solution was revealed, so that was perfect. There was just enough exposition to help move the story along without bogging it down. And in a delightful surprise, there were moments of humor, something I appreciated.
Not only would I recommend this book to people both Holmes-obsessed and not, but I hope that Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse write another.