by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Reviewed by Amy Thomas
A Holmesian book written by an athletic legend: Judging by some of the raised eyebrows turned toward the idea of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a novelist, you’d think the man had never written a sentence, let alone that he’s the New York Times bestselling author of several books, an award-winning children’s book author, and a columnist for Time magazine. Mycroft Holmes, an effort written with his previous collaborator from the award-winning documentary project On The Shoulders of Giants, is not the work of an enthusiastic amateur. It’s a polished diamond of a book that may very well take its place as a classic of the genre.
Mycroft Holmes is aptly named. It’s a mystery tale, but it also serves as a rich character study of the elder Holmes brother at the beginning of his career. The Mycroft we meet is sharply intelligent, maddeningly imperfect, and completely human. He hasn’t yet become the middle-aged figure Doyle introduced, but he’s believably headed exactly where readers will know he can’t fail to arrive.
The supporting cast is delightfully and idiosyncratically fleshed out. Notably, the authors give Mycroft a Watson figure, of sorts, in the character of the wise and humorously ironic Cyrus Douglas, a native of Trinidad, who serves as the catalyst for a mystery investigation that takes the protagonist to distant shores. Others, even those who only appear for a page or two, are vividly and intriguingly drawn.
Sherlock Holmes, too, takes his place, but he’s a teenager seen through the eyes of an elder brother whose perspective, in realistic fashion, amplifies his little brother’s failings and downplays his virtues. As anyone must who chooses to write about either Holmes brother in early life, Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse made specific decisions about how to portray the Holmes brothers’ family of origin and youthful behavior, decisions that strongly impact character motivations. The majority of those who enjoy the character of Holmes have, probably, speculated about his origin at some point and formed their own opinions, but even if some readers don’t share the viewpoint the authors take on the question, the story remains engaging and plausible.
Much like many of Doyle’s stories, the plot elements of Mycroft Holmes are a colorful mixture of foreign intrigue and English domesticity. The lens is not turned on a Holmes and a Watson in Baker Street, but it’s no less interesting to meet a Holmes and a Douglas at their beloved tobacco shop and to follow them as they travel far away to solve a mystery anchored in real history.
The book is extremely well-written and well-researched, with layers of sensory detail and filmic tableaux that reflect Waterhouse’s screenwriting influence. Doylean Easter Eggs are also sprinkled throughout and are presented with a witty subtlety that will delight longtime fans.
Ultimately, Mycroft Holmes is a good book and an engaging mystery for Sherlockians and non-Sherlockians alike, but it’s a particular delight for aficionados of the Doylean world. Here’s hoping Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse write many more.
Mycroft Holmes will be released September 22, 2015, and is available for preorder here.
A pre-publication copy of the above-reviewed work was provided for consideration by the publisher. All opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.