I’m going to be honest with you–I instantly judge books by their covers when the author is a celebrity. My initial thought, along with a mental eye-roll, is usually, “Not another ghost-written celebrity novel guaranteed to sell a bazillion copies even though it’s total crap.” So when I received a review copy of Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse (whoever she is) my reaction was the usual and then some, being an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, having read all the stories and the handful of novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle many times. Reading the blurb, I saw that the Abdul-Jabbar novel is an adventure featuring, of all people, Mycroft Holmes , the smarter and sedentary sibling of Sherlock. My second thought then was, “Mycroft never leaves his club chair if he doesn’t have to. His claim to fame is being able to solve problems from his armchair, being fed the pertinent details. How on EARTH is this going to work and how does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have the NERVE to even GO here.” Yes, I’ll admit it…I was feeling judgmental and indignant and just peeved enough to give the book a go, thinking that in the world of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, some of which are really, really bad, at least this is a different angle, even if it might be wrong.
But first I needed to know what drove the creation of this book in the first place. It turns out the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been a huge Conan-Doyle fan since college and recently co-edited an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories. I began to thaw a little finding out he’s rather authoritative, but needed to know just WHO is this co-author Anna Waterhouse? She is a scriptwriter and consultant who specializes in adjusting dialogue, which makes sense when you have a period piece that may just be interesting to the movie execs in Hollywoodland. Now that curiosity killed that particular cat, I was able to read on unfettered by my petty grievances and by the end of the first chapter I was hooked and really impressed.
Abdul-Jabbar successfully uses Mycroft Holmes as his protagonist by setting the novel during his early government career when he is only 23 and worlds away from the middle-aged, sedentary character who appears during Sherlock’s active period. A young Sherlock makes a cameo within the first few chapters and again at the end, but stays very much in the background, avoiding the kind of unfavorable comparisons which inevitably arise while reading a Holmes pastiche. There are many clever nods to the originals but those are footnotes within a fresh and innovative story featuring completely new characters and an ingenious scene change, which again helps avoid any unfavorable comparisons to Holmsian London. Mycroft is led from London to Trinidad on a hair-raising personal and professional mission that does not leave him unscathed in body or mind. Abdul-Jabbar does a wonderful job balancing the intricacies of character with the action and sets a tone that is accurate and evocative. I enjoyed this novel so much that I am desperately hoping that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tackles a new Sherlock Holmes story in his next novel and I do not begrudge him the inevitable success of this one; it is well deserved and should rightfully be read by scads of people.