Monday, May 26, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Death in the Air by Shane Peacock

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Death in the Air by Shane Peacock. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Death in the Air by Shane PeacockBuy from Amazon.com

Death in the Air by
A Boy Sherlock Holmes Mystery

Tundra Books (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-88776-851-2 (0887768512)
ISBN-13: 978-0-88776-851-4 (9780887768514)
Publication Date: April 2008
List Price: $19.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): After the harrowing experience of losing his mother while solving a brutal murder in London’s East End, young Sherlock Holmes commits himself to fighting crime … and is soon involved in another case.

While visiting his father at the magnificent Crystal Palace, Sherlock stops to watch a remarkable and dangerous trapeze performance high above, framed by the stunning glass ceiling of the legendary building. Suddenly, the troupe’s star is dropping, screaming and flailing, toward the floor. He lands with a sickening thud just a few feet away, and rolls up almost onto the boy’s boots. Unconscious and bleeding profusely, his body is grotesquely twisted. In the mayhem that follows, Sherlock notices something that no one else sees — something is amiss with the trapeze bar! He knows that foul play is afoot. What he doesn’t know is that his discovery will put him on a frightening, twisted trail that leads to an entire gang of notorious criminals..

Review: As Canadian author Shane Peacock’s delightful novel Death in the Air illustrates, it’s never too soon to be introduced to the British detective many believe to be the greatest sleuth of all time. Aimed at young adults, this second book in Peacock’s The Boy Sherlock Holmes Series is as entertaining and stimulating for adults and afficianados as it is for teenagers and first-time readers seeking to learn what Holmes might have been like as a street-wise thirteen-year-old half-Jewish lad living, growing up and sleuthing in London in 1867.

Although a mere teenager Holmes has already solved his first case in Peacock’s Eye of the Crow, but at tremendous personal cost in the death of his mother as retribution for his search for justice in the killing of a young woman. Still battered by his loss he is attempting to make amends with his estranged father, a worker at London’s famed Crystal Palace, when he is ensnared in his second case. It happens when Monsieur Mercure, the famed aerialist nicknamed Le Coq, plunges from his broken trapeze to fall at the astonished lad’s feet, muttering an ambiguous “Silence ... me ...,” before being rushed unconscious to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Using his rapidly developing trademark powers of observation and deductive reasoning Holmes begins assessing the clues and surveying the possible suspects for what he quickly concludes is an attempted murder. As he ponders the problem he crosses paths with the other members of Mercure’s troupe, The Swallow, The Robin, and The Eagle. He refers to famous aerialists Leotard, Blondin and the Flying Farinis and dressed as a reporter he meets with the Great Farini and his protégé El Nino at the Royal Alhambra Palace. It is another example of how Holmes frequently uses disguises in his quest for justice. And as a sample of his physical derring-do he accidentally takes a turn for the worst on the flying trapeze when he flies through the air “with the least of ease.”

All around him as he searches for the perpetrators of the Mercure incident and a robbery that has come to light, Victorian London comes alive. There are cleverly inserted references to the authors of the day, Charles Dickens and Jules Verne for two, to Thomas Crapper’s newly invented flush toilet, to London’s newspapers, The Tely, Gazette, and Times, to the Peelers or Bobbies as the police are known, to the steam locomotive trains huffing into and out of Charring Cross Station. Other landmarks are included too such as Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Scotland Yard, the Elephant and Castle, Dulwich Village and “its renowned college,” the Thames Tunnel, “the world’s first underwater tunnel,” and the dilapidated warehouses of Rotherhithe. It is there the infamous Brixton Gang have secreted themselves before Holmes brings them to justice for the robbery related to Le Coq’s mishap and reveals the relevance of the injured aerialist’s muttered message. The gang’s capture is as spectacular, exciting and dangerous an adventure as any the senior Holmes encounters later on.

Although Dr. Watson hasn’t yet entered Holmes life in Peacock’s books, others from the Sherlockian canon have, such as Dr. Bell, an alchemist with whom he now lives and Inspector Lestrade with whom he frequently crosses swords. Even Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes adult crime series, is referred to while an imaginary daughter, Irene Doyle, plays a major role as the love interest in a romantic triangle with Holmes and Malefactor, the London Irregulars’ street boss, crime Lord and Sherlock’s nemesis. And as the youthful Holmes hones his detective skills that play so prominently in the adult novels, Peacock also lays the groundwork for the master detective’s mature personality traits and his emotional and psychological behaviours that have fuelled so many books and even scholarly treatises. As well Peacock resurrects the symbolism of the crows that was so well done in young Sherlock’s first case. And he foreshadows the troubles of future sequels when he has the conflicted Sherlock conclude about friends and foes alike that “He will outsmart them all. He will continue his plan to turn himself into a crime-fighting machine unlike any England has ever seen.” “Evidently, Mr. Peacock. Evidently.”

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (mw_cunningham@telus.net) for contributing his review of Death in the Air.

Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

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1 comment:

  1. When I was growing up, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes were my introduction to mysteries. I enjoyed them. It is interesting to see how the Sherlock Holmes series is following what was done in the movie industry with Star Wars and Indiana Jones - starting off in the later years and falling back to the early years.

    I am curious to see if kids from today will take up reading Sherlock Holmes as a boy.

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