It is 1868 and Sherlock Holmes is 14 years old. His older brother Mycroft has come from his important job at the Foreign Office to escort Sherlock from school to his uncle's estate where he will spend the summer. There is no one at the family home to look after him. Sherlock is perturbed at the thought of a lonely, boring summer among people who don't really want him there. He soon meets two people who will keep boredom a long way away: a young street urchin, Matty Arnatt, and a tutor that Mycroft has arranged for him, an American named Amyus Crowe. Matty tells of witnessing a mysterious black cloud that seemed to intentionally move out the window of a house where a dead body was found. The body was completely covered with welts and boils and rumors of plague arise. Just a short time later, another body is found in similar condition.
With Amyus offering support -- and guidance in deductive reasoning -- Sherlock and Matty pursue the mystery of the deaths and the menacing cloud. They uncover a nefarious (naturally) plot against the [gasp!] highest levels of the British government. It is the resourcefulness and bravery of the two boys that saves the day.
As I said, Holmes is an unlikely teen hero. But for a reader who doesn't know much about the adult Holmes, that's not really going to matter. Sherlock is a smart, thoughtful kid who takes to detecting like a duck to water and if his adventures reek a little too much of an action-adventure movie maybe that will entice a few more young readers to explore the Conan Doyle canon. The character of Amyus Crowe (who is kind of Holmesian with an added taste of the Wild West) is very interesting -- even if he has a spunky daughter upon whom Sherlock develops a crush.
The audiobook is narrated by Dan Weyman (the recording itself says Daniel). I think he's new to narrating, but he has gotten off to a splendid start. He sets a cracking pace, but reads Sherlock with a quietness that aptly describes the shy, introspective boy he is. Weyman has the opportunity to tie on the accents -- with a broad range of social classes amongst the English as well as the whispery (and threatening) German accent of the chief villain, Baron Maupertuis. He's amazingly good as the novel's two Americans, with the right emphasis on our hard "r's." Amyus might be a little too twangy, but I'm truly not certain how people from New Mexico Territory sound. (My research shows me that the Territory included parts of Arizona and Colorado, so I'm good with the twang.) I'm assuming that Weyman is British, and pretty darn often the British aren't so good at American accents. If he isn't British, all American compliments are off!
There was one thing that really bugged me about the audiobook (and presumably the book), though, is that it always refers to Holmes as Sherlock. It makes sense for a young person to go by his first name, but it caught me up every time. An odd name that sounds odd spoken aloud. That's another one of those disconnects between a teen Holmes and the misanthropic loner/drug user/emotionless adult one. But as I said before ... this probably doesn't matter to young readers.
I like Sherlock Holmes. I've enjoyed the stories themselves, I liked Jeremy Brett's Holmes as well as Benedict Cumberbatch's not-quite Holmes. Rupert Everett was pretty fun too. (Not so much Robert Downey, Jr.) I like Holmes patisches, particularly Laurie R. King's Mary Russell mysteries. I recently read The Sherlockian, which was delightfully informative about Doyle himself. Holmes is everywhere! So why not in the teen section of the library?
[The photo of the plaque on the wall near 221b Baker Street was taken by Damiano Luchetti and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. The text on the bottom reads: "We met next day and inspected the rooms at 221b Baker Street ... and at once entered into possession." A Study in Scarlet/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.]
Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes, The Legend Begins) by Andrew Lane
Narrated by Dan Weyman
Macmillan Audio, 2010. 7:16