Written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse — On top of being one of the greatest baskeball players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has recently revealed his love of murder mysteries and, in particular, those involving Sherlock Holmes. Here he’s teamed up with co-writer Anna Waterhouse to begin a series exploring Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother.
The character only appeared in four of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, making his debut in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, but he is far from a minor character in the canon. Perhaps only Moriarty and Irene Adler appeared less frequently but made more of an impact. By the time of his appearance, Mycroft’s formidable intellect, perhaps even greater than his esteemed brother’s, has made him a vital cog in the machine of British government, directing affairs from the comfort of the Diogenes Club. He is played excellently by Mark Gatiss in the BBC’s Sherlock.
Mycroft does appear in John Elvin’s Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Mad Bear but isn’t at the forefront in Sherlockian pastiches. Moriarty, Adler and alternative Watsons, have all had books written from their perspective, but Mycroft has remained an enigma, until now. This book is to act therefore not just as a gripping mystery, but also an origin story of sorts.
The novel is set in 1870. Mycroft has graduated from Cambridge and begun work in the civil service as assistant to the Secretary of State for War. He is engaged to Georgina Sutton who comes from a rich colonial family in Trinidad, and is planning out the future steps in his professional and personal life. His only close friend is a native Trinidadian, Cyrus Douglas, whose ethnicity means that when the pair go out socially, Douglas has to pretend to be his servant. London society is not ready to view the two men as equals. The only cloud on his horizon is the vexing matter of Mycroft’s younger brother. The boy has talent but lacks direction, and his social skills lag far behind his intelligence.
Douglas has worries of his own. There is news from his island that all is not well. Men have disappeared; children have been abducted only for their bodies to be discovered drained of blood; and weird backwards facing footprints have been spotted on the beach. When he shares his worries with Mycroft, the pair hatch a plan to visit the island. It is a simple enough matter for him to convince the minister that Her Majesty’s Government needs a presence there to investigate evidence of a potential local uprising, a figment of their imagination of course, but when Mycroft tells Georgina of his concerns, she surprises him by insisting she return herself. Their scheme accelerates when Georgina books herself on the next freighter leaving for the Caribbean.
Mycroft and Douglas manage to get onto the same ship but are mystified when they can find no evidence of Georgina aboard. They are committed to the journey and hope to catch up with her on the island. But it’s not that straightforward – a delegation of wealthy business men seems to have a particular interest in their affairs, and on more than one occasion they are assaulted.
They get little help from the colonial governor, who is more concerned with the quality of his brandy and cigars than with the island’s population, but Mycroft and Douglas do discover that wealthy Europeans, some of whom made the journey with them, have been buying up small islands in the vicinity of Trinidad. With little else to go on, and still no sign of Georgina, they decide to investigate.
Without wishing to spoil the plot, Mycroft and Douglas are on the right track. The authors use the mystery to explore the legacy of colonialism, slavery in particular, which gives the book some added depth, and makes it more than just a mystery. This is its strongest aspect.
Sadly, despite the star billing of one of the authors, the mystery itself is somewhat confused and rushed towards the end. Crucially, there is little, other than a broken heart, to explain why Mycroft grows into the man he does. Mycroft Holmes feels like a missed opportunity.
For other novels featuring Conan Doyle’s characters but not written by the great man himself, click here.
CFL Rating: 2 Stars
Glen Petrie wrote two Mycroft Holmes mysteries in the late 80’s. Maybe these two books with Mycroft have been overlooked.
I love the idea of this but it sounds like it’s somewhat lacking in the execution, which is a shame. I’ll be sure to check out the ones from Glen Petrie as well though.
There are I believe four, or perhaps Five, Mycroft Holmes novels by Petrie. Quinn Fawcett wrote a series of three books, involving HM and his secretary.