Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Review: Snake Bite by Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

Kidnapped and taken to China, Sherlock finds himself plunged into adventure. How can three men be bitten by the same poisonous snake in different parts of Shanghai? Who wants them dead, and why? The answer seems to lie in a message hidden in a diagram like a spider’s web. But solving it leads to an even more urgent question: what has all this got to do with a plot to blow up an American warship? Sherlock is about to brave terrors greater than any he has faced before . . .

Five books in and Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes books just seem to get better and better. I raced through the latest, Snake Bite, in a single sitting, and yet again I was left wanting more and more, and this may even be my favourite of the series so far.

Snake Bite is very different from the previous books in the series in that it hardly features any of the characters that have appeared in previous books. In fact, the only two that do make an appearance are Sherlock's brother Mycroft and his tutor Amyus Crowe, and this only in the book's prologue as they agonise over the disappearance of Sherlock. It would appear that he has been kidnapped, most likely by The Paradol Chamber, but for what reason we are left to speculate along with Mycroft and Crowe.

The first chapter proper opens with Sherlock at sea, on board the Gloria Scott, just off the southernmost tip of Africa. He still has little idea as to how he came to be on board the ship - he can remember falling asleep in his uncle's library, and the next thing he knew he was at sea, initially being treated as a stowaway. However, through hard work he has become accepted by the crew as almost one of them, and so begins his greatest adventure so far. An adventure that sees him travelling all the way to China, facing pirates along the way, and making new friends and, of course, new enemies along the way.

In previous books Andrew Lane has already done a considerable amount of fleshing out of his young Holmes, gradually giving him the skills, character traits and morals that Sherlockians the world over know and love. We have seen Sherlock learn to play the violin, we have seen the birth of his deductive powers and his desire to question, and we have seen Sherlock's very obvious sense of what is right and what is wrong. In this book Andrew Lane continues to give us the glimpses into how the adult Sherlock was 'made', as we see the young version learning Chinese, and also his first introduction to the martial arts of the Far East (and very useful these skills prove to be as well). We also see how Sherlock developed the ability to converse naturally with people who in those days would have seemed a long way below his station - a skill he puts to great use in Conan Doyle's stories.

Without wanting to spoil things for readers I will also mention that the ending of this book is not so cut-and-dried as in the previous stories. There were elements of it I was not so happy with (a certain letter rings a little false in my mind, but I am no historian and it may be very typical of society at that time, and it does explain a significant aspect of the adult Sherlock's character), but the author's note about the return of The Paradol Chamber in the next book was very welcome news.

I want to leave you with one short excerpt from the book that put a huge smile on my face. As in previous books, Andrew Lane likes to drop in the occasional huge nudge and a wink towards the future Holmes, and this is one I loved. Sherlock is on board the Gloria Scott, and is thinking to himself that Mycroft's policy of staying at home and therefore keeping safe might actually be a wise philosophy as working on board such a ship is a very dangerous occupation. However, he quickly dismisses this as it would mean missing out on all kinds of adventures. At this, he smiles to himself and thinks: "Maybe the thing to do was to make friends with a doctor - that way you could always ave treatment close at hand."

My thanks go to the wonderful people at Macmillan for sending me a copy of Snake Bite to review.


  1. Nice review. I too had some doubts about the final letter, though I suppose we'll just have to accept it and move on, eh? I almost don't want to see the next book as I'd have to face the reunion with Virginia. Almost.

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