The year is 1868 and fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes faces his most baffling mystery yet. Mycroft, his older brother, has been found with a knife in his hand, locked in a room with a corpse. Only Sherlock believes that his brother is innocent. But can he prove it?
In a chase that will take him to Moscow and back, Sherlock must discover who has framed Mycroft and why . . . before Mycroft swings at the gallows.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes books, and my reviews of the first two in the series have been pretty glowing. I know that this is a view that is not shared by all fans of Conan Doyle's classic stories, and some critics have (rightly) pointed out that Death Cloud and Red Leech were more action/adventure stories than mystery detection. With Black Ice Andrew Lane has surely begun to answer these critics, and in my opinion he has now developed the character enough in the previous two outings for this to be a realistic next step in the life of young Sherlock Holmes.
Black Ice is still a classic adventure story (it has to have these elemnts to appeal to today's young readers), but thanks to the tutelage of Amyus Crowe, our young hero is now in the position to use logic and deduction to draw his own conclusions when trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious event that could have a devastating effect on his family. For his brother Mycroft has been accused of committing a murder he has no recollection of doing, and we have here the beginnings of a classic locked room mystery. Mycroft is even discovered, knife in hand, by Sherlock and Amyus, and on the face of things all of the initial evidence points to him being guilty in the eyes of the men from Scotland Yard. However, Sherlock knows his brother well enough to find this incredulous, and with the assistance of Crowe he sets out to prove his brother innocent.
Andrew Lane likes to mix things up in these stories: Death Cloud was largely based in the UK (apart from a short visit across the Channel); Red Leech saw Sherlock heading off to the USA; and now in Black Ice a visit to Czarist Russia is on the cards for our young hero. Apart from giving Sherlock the wider view of the world and its people, this journey also takes him away from the influence of Amyus Crowe for a period of time, and instead puts him in the care of a very different mentor, a man who will already be familiar to those who have read Red Leech. Whilst Crowe is a man who teaches logic and deduction, this new mentor is a more unpredictable character and through his influence we start to see more of the other side of the character of Holmes, the person who although seeming cold and distant at times, actually has a deep rooted caring for the world and the afflicted people he comes across.
What I love most about Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock books is the way he is very slowly revealing to those of us who know and love the adult character, exactly how certain traits, mannerisms and peculiarities of the adult version came into being, and I am sure I am not the only reader who delights from trying to spot these moments as the story progresses. One such moment for me in Black Ice, although not particularly subtle, had me with a big smile on my face , as Sherlock, in despair at what he views to be the failings of Scotland Yard, angrily asks Crowe: "'Why isn't there someone who can investigate things that the police won't or can't investigate? Some kind of independent, consulting force of detectives who can set things straight, like the Pinkerton Agency in America that you told me about'". And the reply hs receives from Crowe: "'It would require someone with a whole set of interestin' qualities, that's for sure,' Crowe said with a strange expression on his face. 'But it's a career niche that is currently unoccupied here in England.'"
Three books in and this is a series I would love to see run and run, and in the interview that Andrew Lane did for The Book Zone some time ago he suggested it would be a series of nine books so there should still be plenty more exciting stories to come. The next book in the series, Fire Storm, is due out in October, and if these details are anything to go by it looks like it could be another cracker:
Fourteen-year-old Sherlock has come up against some challenges in his time, but what confronts him now is completely baffling. His tutor, Crowe, and Crowe's daughter, Ginny, have vanished. Their house looks as if nobody has ever lived there. Neighbours claim never to have heard of them.
Sherlock begins to doubt his sanity, until a chance clue points him to Scotland. Following that clue leads him into the throes of a mystery that involves kidnapping, bodysnatchers and a man who claims he can raise the dead. Before he knows it, Sherlock is fighting for his life as he battles to discover what has happened to his his friends.
My thanks go to Jessica Dean Publicity for sending me a copy of this book to review.