Sunday, August 19, 2012

Death Cloud - a Review

These days, I don’t read many light adventure stories. Even when I do, they were probably written fifty or more years ago. So I had conflicting thoughts about Death Cloud, by Andrew Lane, coming right off a binge of heavy prose and old-fashioned dialogue. As the first teen series endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate, this new Sherlock Holmes book had to rise to a certain level of expectations on my part. In some ways, it did, and in others, not so much.

As a writer, my first thoughts were: What a title! It’s horrifically non-original and bland. If I had to guess what the story was about, I’d say it was the memoirs of an atomic bomb researcher. Cloud of Death would’ve been better. The tagline wasn’t much better: Two Dead Bodies. One Unforgettable Hero. Really? That’s a fairly accurate description, but just…two dead bodies? It needs stronger words - corpses, cadavers, bloody murders! But, maybe it’s just that the thought of having a tagline for a Sherlock Holmes book strikes me as strange, having just finished reading several of the original stories.

But, now I’ve gotten over that, Death Cloud had many good elements. The pacing is excellent, drawing the reader into a series of mysteries, interesting encounters, escapes and rescues, all culminating with a fascinating climax. I liked all the main characters, even the protagonist, which is out of the norm for me.

Sherlock is written very well. There are aspects of the Holmes of Conan Doyle, but those things have yet to develop fully, allowing him to be a somewhat different person than the Master, while very similar. Sherlock is inquisitive and somewhat rash, not about to let a puzzle drop if it piques his curiosity. He is very intelligent and observant, but not to the point of brilliance. Obviously, Lane intends Sherlock’s mind to develop throughout the series, a move I welcome heartily. Holmes is human, after all. Young Sherlock is less eccentric than his older self, less of an introvert, less of a nerd, and more of a people person.

His sidekicks and mentor are well-drawn as well. Matty Arnatt is akin to the Artful Dodger, with less panache, and Virginia Crowe is an American tomboy, but thankfully, not to the point of anachronistic feminist. Virginia’s father, the charismatic and enigmatic Amyus Crowe (great name, by the way), is a great relief to this Anglophile. He’s tough, no-nonsense, and independent, but in a good way. Most Brits tend to paint Americans as rich, arrogant louts whose every fifth word I wouldn’t want my younger siblings to hear. Very rarely are Americans (specifically men) given justice (see just about every BBC miniseries ever). Amyus Crowe is a noted exception. Sherlock’s mentor, he teaches the young Holmes to think, to observe, and to survive. He’s an over-all great guy, probably the best adult in the book, except, perhaps for Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft.

So it has a lot going for it in the Fun Story department. But there are a few problems. Dialogue, for one. At some points, it gets far too modern. I think it could be a little more 19th Century. Another thing: this is obviously somewhat of an attempt to make Sherlock Holmes into a Victorian Alex Rider (see the Justin Bieber haircut on the cover). The bad guy is a little too dramatically creative, and his plot a bit excessively Take Over the World for a Holmes story.

Still, it was a great tale. There were some surprisingly beautiful chunks of prose, and the historical aspect is great. It’s similar to The Gideon Trilogy in that respect, providing all sorts of interesting details about London of Holmes’s day. Never in an info-dump way, but always furthering the story, it all assembles to create a vibrant setting. The action is exciting and quick-paced; Sherlock’s sensory input adds a great element of realism. There are multiple details that readers of the originals will pick up on: Sherlock’s interest in bees, his uncle’s name, Amyus Crowe’s cigar-stuffed shoe. While it definitely isn’t Conan Doyle or even a passable imitation, Death Cloud is a great, clean story that kept me very entertained.

Elementary, my dear Reader,
Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America


  1. Death Cloud sounds like it might be worth checking out. I'll have to see if my library has it, though I kind of doubt it. They only keep up with all those paranormal romance books.
    I did notice the unusual haircut on the boy in the cover. Maybe they wanted to give him a slightly modern look to appeal to a younger audience. It does look a lot like Justin Bieber's hair doesn't it? :)

    1. Paranormal romances...ugh. I hope they'll go out of vogue soon, but I highly doubt it.
      I did enjoy Death Cloud, but it might just be me...and again, I admit that I was excited to find a nice American guy in a British book. It's rather funny to count how many times American males are jerks in the BBC: Jeeves and Wooster, Poirot, Foyle's War, Sherlock...need I go on? ;)
      And yeah...Sherlock Bieber? Really?

    2. Yeah, I've read a few of the paranormal romances and some of them are okay, but the majority of, not that great.
      I have noticed that the British do tend to make American males jerks, so that'll be even more incentive to find the book.


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