Monday, March 7, 2011

YA Mystery/Historical Fiction - Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

In the summer of 1868, fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is looking forward to a vacation at home with his family. Instead, however, he is sent to stay at the country home of an aunt and uncle he's never met. What looks like an already boring summer is made worse when Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft, hires a tutor for him, but things begin to look up when Sherlock finds his first real friend in the orphan Matty Arnatt, and the tutor turns out to be an outdoors-y, logic-driven native of Albuquerque (who also happens to have a pretty, if rather tomboyish, daughter). Oh, and there's a mystery. Matty's seen a "death cloud" that leaves the people it touches dead, covered in boils reminiscent of the plague. Is it the plague, or is it murder? And, if murder, are the murders part of a larger plan?

It took a while (as in 2/3 of the book) for me to be able to ignore Death Cloud as just another Holmes spin-off unworthy of reading for any other reason besides it's just another Holmes spin-off. Meaning it took a long time for the mystery and plot to be able to hold their own, without the added appeal of having Sherlock Holmes as the main character. I only got truly interested in the plot and characters within the last fifty or so pages. The origins of the titular death cloud were rather anticlimatic, though still interesting, especially as what the purpose of the death cloud was eventually unfolded. Lane, at times, did a very good job of incorporating historical details into the story, but at other times he was not able to include such details smoothly. Also, some of his descriptions of characters' actions seemed a bit too drawn out; I really don't have to read a step-by-step (literally) description of someone climbing a fence to get the idea.

There were some lines/situations I found funny:

At the beginning, you are first introduced to Holmes as someone yells at him "You there! Come here!" Hardly the intro you would expect for such a famous detective...of course, that doesn't come 'til later.

"'I was coming to help,' Sherlock said. 'Strange,' Virginia replied. 'So was I'" (p 278).

"The bees had to be stopped" (p 285). Seems a bit melodramatic, doesn't it?

And, once everything is done: "But as your tutor, the question I have is, what did you learn from it all?" (p 305)

The ending to Death Cloud implies that the next book in the series will contain the same bad guys. However, the back of the book lists the sequel as taking place in America, where Sherlock and Matty will "uncover a plot to resuscitate the Confederacy." I live in North Carolina, and my mom has a lot of Civil War re-enacting friends (actually, we met them selling books and herbs at colonial/Civil War events). We occasionally get reprimanded for not referring to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression." I'm definitely reading the sequel. Oh, and there's "bloodsucking creatures" involved.

Note: I seriously believe AP European History has corrupted my brain, because most of the books I've read recently, I connect in some way to the material in that class. Death Cloud is no exception. Thank you, Crimean War references, Sepoy Mutiny references, and the whole imperialism thing. I was reading this to get away from you, AP Euro!

My copy of Death Cloud is a finished copy received through Holt InGroup. It went on sale (in the U.S.; the British edition came out last year) on February 1, 2011.

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