What was Mycroft Holmes like as a young man? What events made him the man he became? His more famous brother once said he “was the British government.” He was a behind-the-scenes player who set the pace for national security foreign policy, while founding and running a social club for the anti-social known as the Diogenes Club.
This is the topic of Basketball Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Anne Waterhouse’s novel Mycroft Holmes. The book begins with Mycroft Holmes as a young man working at the foreign office, engaged to marry a beautiful woman. He’s best friends with Douglas, a native of Trinidad who secretly owns the finest tobacconist shop in London. Douglas pretends to be an employee of two white shopkeepers who pretend to run it in order to avoid the prejudices of the time. When children began mysteriously dying in Trinidad, Mycroft’s fiancée (whose family has a plantation there) takes off for the island and tells him not to follow. He, however, joins Douglas and departs for the Island to aide her and find out what he can do to help her and stop the trouble.
The novel is superbly researched. Abdul-Jabaar traces his heritage backs to Trinidad and the book reflects a broad knowledge of the island, its history, and the various sub-cultures that are part of it. The book’s plot deals with issues of slavery and race but rarely comes across as if we’re reading a modern-day screed on the topic. Much of it is told as simply what happened, with any sentiments being expressed being believable for people living in the Victorian era.
The book has pacing that’s appropriate to a novel set in this era. The pacing is never glacial but the book isn’t afraid to take its time, to paint a vivid picture, and to show the action’s development. As for the story itself, it’s a bit more action than it is a mystery.
At the heart of the book is Mycroft’s relationship to Douglas. In many ways, Douglas is Mycroft’s Watson. He’s not a genius, but he’s steady, reliable, courageous, and street smart. The dynamic is different because, as the book starts, Douglas is a 40-year-old man of the world, while Mycroft is a brilliant young man in his twenties who is, in many ways, naïve about the ways of the world. The book is a coming-of-age story for him.
Of course, no Holmes book would be complete without Sherlock playing a role in it, in some way. In Mycroft Holmes, it’s limited to a couple of brief cameos that offer a compelling take on the two brothers’ relationship. The book manages to be true to who the characters have been established to be in canon while showing just enough of brotherly warmth between them.
There are a ton of pastiches about Sherlock Holmes and friends. Many of them are awful. If you’re a little bit skeptical and wonder if a basketball player could write one of the good ones, wonder no more., Mycroft Holmes is a superb novel and a great origin story for the Greatest Detective’s big brother.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0