Today I Read…Eye of the Crow

Eye of the CrowToday I read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, the first book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Born of a Jewish father and a mother disinherited from the gentry, and with the gifts of intellect and observation, young Sherlock Holmes is not a boy who fits in anywhere. Tormented by his schoolfellows, he prefers to spend his days reading the exciting police newspapers in Trafalgar Square, until one day when he reads of the shocking murder of a lovely young actress, and the arrest of the wicked Arab what done ‘er in. Justice served…or is she?

The young Egyptian, poor and dark of skin though he be, professes his innocence, and only Sherlock, condemned by society for being a half-mongrel Jew, believes him. But when he goes snooping around the scene of the crime, the detectives of Scotland Yard think he’s in on it!

Chased by the police, and with the true murderer lurking around every corner, young Sherlock must make new friends, treat with his enemies,and stretch his mind to its very limits to solve the crime and save himself, the innocent stranger, and someone else dearest to him.

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This series has been on my reading list for a while (I actually picked up a copy of the 6th book, Becoming Holmes, at the 2013 OLA Super Conference), but my to-read list keeps growing and my free time keeps shrinking. But now with my new job in a school library (yay! so exciting!) I can call it ‘familiarizing myself with the collection’ and delve more into the middle grades fiction and leave off the adult books for a while. So I grabbed the first book and devoured it today after school.

It’s definitely written as a modern mystery, even though it’s set in the Victorian era. It doesn’t have the distinct tone of the Conan Doyle stories, even though it does well with the historical details. That said, it works well for this story, being written for children–the more modern, familiar tone makes it a fast and easy read.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes will see elements of the great detective scattered through the book, in somewhat changed circumstances. Miss Irene Doyle, for example, is a most daring young woman, and the intelligent and dangerous Malefactor is almost a dark version of Holmes. There is no loyal Watson, which seems odd–a Sherlock should never be without his Boswell–but it is only the first book in the series, so I’m hoping an equivalent shows up in a further adventure.

Sherlock himself is not the same cold, calculating man of pure practical science that some readers may recall. He is a child–gifted, different, but still hurt by others’ disdain. He is angry at the world, for condemning him as a half-breed and dooming him to a life of poverty and struggle for the conditions of his birth–it’s not FAIR! His anger costs him dearly–he is forced to shut away his emotions to solve the case and save himself, showing the roots of the once and future great detective.

I like the book–I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoy rewrites of famous stories and characters, seeing all the different ways they can go in the hands of different authors. Peacock does a great job of going back to the beginning of such a famous and beloved character, and introducing him to a new generation. The book evokes the past Sherlock and his London while still being accessible to a young reader. Now, for the upcoming weekend, I think I need to borrow the rest of the series at school tomorrow…

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As the sun climbs, its rays spread light through the lifting yellow fog, filtering down upon a brown, flowing mass of people: on top hats and bonnets, heavy clothes and boots swarming on bridges and along cobblestone streets. Hooves strike the pavement, clip-clopping over the rumbling iron wheels, the drone of the crowds, and hawkers’ cries. The smell of horses, of refuse, of coal and gas, hangs in the air. Nearly everyone has somewhere to go on this late spring morning in the year of Our Lord, 1867.

Among those moving over the dirty river from the south, is a tall, thin youth with skin the pallor of the pale margins in The Times of London. He is thirteen years old and should be in school. From a distance he appears elegant in his black frock coat and necktie with waistcoat and polished boots. Up close, he looks frayed. He seems sad, but his gray eyes are alert.

His name is Sherlock Holmes.

Last night’s crime in Whitechapel, one of many in London, though perhaps its most vicious, will change his life. In moments it will introduce itself to him. Within days it will envelop him.

He comes to these loud, bustling streets to get away from his problems, to look for excitement, and to see the rich and famous, to wonder what makes them successful and appreciated. He has a nose for the scent of thrilling and desperate things, and all around these teeming arteries, he finds them.

He gets here by the same route every day. At first he heads south from the family’s first-floor flat over the old hatter’s shop in grimy Southwark, and walks in the direction of his school. But when he is out of sight he always veers west, and then sneaks north and crosses the river with the crowds at Blackfriars Bridge, for the glorious center of the city.

Londoners move past him in waves, each with a story. They all fascinate him.

Sherlock Holmes is an observing machine; has been that way almost since birth. He can size up a man or a woman in an instant. He can tell where someone is from, what another does to make his living. In fact, he is known for it on his little street. If something is missing – a boot or an apron or a crusty doorstep of bread – he can look into faces, examine trousers, find telltale clues, and track the culprit, large or small.

This man walking toward him has been in the army, you can tell by his bearing. He’s pulled the trigger of his rifle with the calloused index finger of his right hand. He’s served in India – notice the Hindu symbol on his left cuff link, like one the boy has seen in a book.

He walks on. A woman with a bonnet pulled down on her head and a shawl gripped around her shoulders brushes against him as she passes.

“Watch your step, you,” she grumbles, glaring at him.

An easy one, thinks the boy. She has recently lost in love, notice the stains around her eyes, the tight anger in her mouth, and the chocolate hidden in her hand. She is within a year of thirty, gaining a little weight, a resident of the Sussex countryside where its unique brown clay has marked the insteps of both her black boots.

The boy feels like he needs to know everything. He needs advantages in a life that has given him few. A teacher at his school once told him he was brilliant. He’d scoffed at that. “Brilliant at what?” he had muttered to himself. “At being in the wrong life at the wrong time?”

On Fleet Street, he reaches into a cast-iron dustbin and pulls out a handful of newspapers. The Times … toss it back. The Daily Telegraph … toss it back. The Illustrated Police News … ah, yes. Now there is a newspaper! Every sensation that London can create brought to life in big black-and-white pictures. He reads such scandal sheets every day, but this one, with a riveting tale of bloody violence and injustice, will reveal to him his destiny.

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