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Book Review: S. F. Bennett: The Secret Diary of Mycroft Holmes

The book carries the subtitle The Thoughts and Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes’s Elder Brother 1880-1888. It is not quite clear whether this book, which is playing the Game, carries the subtitle because of the editor, or because Mycroft Holmes chose either title. The editor, Bennett, received the diaries, written in code, and has set out to transcribing them for our reading pleasure. The first finished transcription covers the the 1880s.

However, as opposed to what you would expect from a government official’s personal diary, it does not carry any real secrets, apart from some opinion pieces on several of Mycroft’s colleagues and bosses. And, as the subtitle says, the diary is by and about Sherlock Holmes’s elder brother. And this is exactly what this amusing account of the early years of Mycroft Holmes in the British Government is concerned with: Sherlock Holmes. The young, irritating, anti-social, poor, hungry Sherlock Holmes, seen through the eyes of a (only slightly more) mature, long suffering older brother who is a little out of his depth as what to do about the little one, who refuses to take money for his services and who refuses to live according to his class.

From page one, the book is fantastically amusing. We get to read Mycroft’s thoughts on all kinds of trivialities, like the joys of living alone yet living in constant fear/hope that his little brother might have to move into the same house. Or women.  Or, rather, Mycroft’s utter inability to behave normally around them, always going for the most awkward of ways to communicate. Well, actually, this is true for most people. Bennett’s Mycroft is an eccentric drama queen with slight tendencies of OCD, who doesn’t quite function around other people, but who is always quick to judge. The need for the Diogenes Club and its rules is paramount and the moment something unexpected happens, Mycroft figures his world might end. Naturally, therefore, this book is full of unexpected things happening to Mycroft – why else keep a journal. While not every aspect boils down to something Sherlock has done (usually, it’s just him showing up hungry and out of funds), many entries cover a whole gaggle of distant relatives, all of whom Mycroft (and Sherlock) would rather not be related to.

One further focus of the diary is therefore Cousin Aubrey. A jack of all trades and master of none, or, rather, the one person in the family who is even stranger than Mycroft and Sherlock. When Aubrey shows up, Mycroft becomes both even more sarcastic and physically uncomfortable, because he is always up to something that is bound to be a failure, at least in Mycroft’s eyes, and often his actions are linked back to him, much to Mycroft’s horror.

Without giving too much away, the book itself doesn’t really have a plot and often just reflects the meandering thoughts and reflections of the elder Holmes, but I enjoyed reading Mycroft’s complete overreaction to almost anything immensely. More than once I believed something truly terrible would happen, and more than once I was slightly disappointed that nothing really bad happened (being so used to reading case-centric stories in pastiches), but then again, to Mycroft, those things are not as trivial.

Now, I keep writing the words real and really in italics. This is due to the fact that the entire book itself is both a gentle satire of the (pre-)Canon, but it is also Mycroft’s own, occasionally unintentional humour which is transported through his narrative perspective. We get both: We get to laugh about how silly Mycroft occasionally (okay, often, or, actually, most of the time) behaves and how he sees the world so differently from anyone else, but we also get to see young canonical Sherlock grow into his shoes and trade (a word Mycroft abhors, obviously) and I would argue that this is the real treasure of this book. We know so little about Mycroft (or the Holmeses in general) and this book offers us a deep insight into the characters of the brothers just before the events of A Study in Scarlet and “The Greek Interpreter”. In the end, and despite the humorous tone of the book, it’s not as far away from Dr. Watson’s narrative as we might first suppose. After all, Watson tells the stories through his eyes and he is a rather normal person, isn’t he? So how does someone who is so extremely intelligent that he simply doesn’t suffer the quirks and routines of people who don’t follow his own lightly, and who is really very worried about this rogue idiot of a brother whom he loves so much he would do anything for (but never ever over his own dead body admit so to anyone, not even himself – but it’s something that jumps out quite clearly from between the lines of the diary entries) narrate the events of his life?

The Secret Diary of Mycroft Holmes is not only an amusing read, but it warms the heart of any Sherlockian with its canonical and historical references. It also has an absolutely wonderful ending that really makes up for all the grand expectations Mycroft’s overdramatic attitude raised in me. Especially because of this ending, I would say that this book is a perfect winter-read. So, if you want to curl up on a couch with a blanket and a cup of tea (or five), this is the book to read while you’re doing it. You’ll giggle, you’ll be exasperated, and you’ll fall in love with the Holmes brothers all over again.

You can purchase the book as a paperback or kindle version via amazon.com, amazon.uk, amazon.de or abebooks.

(A review copy was kindly provided by the author. )

Maria teaches English Literature at Leipzig University, Germany, published a German introduction to Sherlock Holmes and is a fan of all things Holmes – but especially of the Canon stories and Sherlock BBC.  Contact her at @stuffasdreamsmaria@bakerstreetbabes.com

One Response to “Book Review: S. F. Bennett: The Secret Diary of Mycroft Holmes”

  1. I enjoyed this review so much. It really has piqued my interest in the book!

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