November 4, 2011

review: death cloud

Death Cloud – Andrew Lane

It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.


Disclaimer: I have not read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories, so I have no standard to apply to Lane’s version of Sherlock’s youth. It also should be noted that Lane’s stories are approved by Doyle’s estate and his surviving relatives.

Death Cloud is the first book in the Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series, and it details the first murder mystery of Sherlock’s career. He’s just fourteen, and he’s forced to stay with his aunt and uncle over the summer, rather than with his family. He befriends a street urchin and takes lessons from an American tutor while trying to piece together the evidence that will lead him to the culprit behind the two unusual deaths in Hampshire.

It took me a long time to get into this book. The author over-explained everything, every little detail of Sherlock’s surroundings. It just didn’t hold my attention. I knew I wanted to read it, so I suffered through the over descriptive prose. I’m glad I did, because I came to an epiphany when I finished the second chapter. Sherlock Holmes is all about the details. He sees things others don’t. Takes notice of things other people wouldn’t bother with. Once I realized that the over-descriptiveness was a character trait, it didn’t bother me any longer. I was able to get sucked into the story.

As I said before, I have nothing to go on, but the characterization in this book was good enough that I genuinely cared for the characters, especially Sherlock. He’s a bit awkward, but most everyone around him seems impressed by his attention to detail and his intuitiveness, which no doubt gets him into a lot of trouble. There’s also a touch of sweet romance in the book, which I always welcome.

The actual murder mystery—piecing the clues together and coming to an answer—was interesting to follow. Sherlock’s tutor, Amyus Crowe teaches Sherlock how to think, what to look for when searching for clues, and how to piece things together, without ever doing the thinking for him. Maybe I’m slow at picking things up, or maybe Lane did a perfect job of having Sherlock figure things out at the same time or just before the reader could. Either way, the details came together wonderfully, and I only ever figured out what Sherlock figured out. I couldn’t see much further than he could. And I really enjoyed that aspect.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book, after I got past the first few chapters. I look forward to the next book Rebel Fire, coming out next April.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (February 1, 2011)


  1. I wonder if this is a better recommendation for those already familiar with the Doyle tales of Sherlock Holmes.

    In your disclaimer, you mention having not read them - neither have I - then having the "details" difficulty in the first few chapters. I can see that being a big discouragement to finish the book. So, I wonder if someone already familiar with some of Holme's traits would immediately appreciate the overdescription for what it was? Hmmm...

  2. Please let me borrow that sometime. I love Sherlock Holmes. Favorite character ever!