#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit 30 Authors at The Book Wheel or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.
Release date: June 7, 2016
Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction
As a Library of Congress employee, six months ago I perused the initial slate of scheduled authors for the 2016 National Book Festival. I shook my head in confusion. Former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had written a novel – and it was about Mycroft Holmes, the older brother of Sherlock Holmes? Real life had become stranger than fiction. Undeterred, I bought a copy of the book and settled in.
I read a fair amount of crime fiction. Successful writers such as Laura Lippman, Linda Fairstein, and Lisa Scottoline consistently deliver engaging storylines, complicated characters, and descriptive settings. I didn’t know what to expect with Mycroft Holmes, Jabbar’s first fiction effort. I found myself pleasantly surprised, increasingly enjoying the plot as it unfolded. Many mystery writers struggle with pacing. It can be challenging to keep readers interested as the story progresses to the dreaded middle chapters, where crime fiction often “dies.” Instead of losing steam, Mycroft Holmes kicked into high gear. For that reason, it’s my dark horse pick of 2016.
Set in 1870, the novel follows Mycroft as he navigates a harrowing adventure early in his career. This is the Mycroft before the Diogenes Club; he’s spry, physically vigorous, and social. A young aide to a British cabinet member, Mycroft falls in love with a woman named Georgiana, who is originally from Trinidad. One day, she unexpectedly informs Mycroft she must return to her native land because children are being murdered, drained of their blood on the beach. Intrigued, Mycroft leaves Britain with his best friend Douglas to follow Georgiana surreptitiously and solve the mystery. A rationalist who could put his younger brother to shame, Mycroft discards the conventional explanation that mysticism and the occult are responsible for the string of disturbing deaths.
Soon after Mycroft and Douglas set sail, they quickly discover their intervening presence is not appreciated in Trinidad. Their lives are repeatedly threatened as they weave together pieces of the story. The complicating issue of race plays a key role, with Douglas posing as Holmes’ valet to reflect the prevailing view of the time period that a black man could not otherwise serve as a proper traveling companion for a distinguished English gentleman. Mycroft’s quest to reunite with Georgiana generates unexpected twists and turns. The result is a complex resolution confirming Holmes’ prediction of rationality, but far exceeding his appetite for evil. “Though the greater part of Holmes was consumed with suffering, a niggling part was still analyzing.”
Fans of the Sherlock Holmes canon will enjoy this book, as well as readers who appreciate historical fiction. Woven throughout the novel is backstory about the British empire and Trinidad. Nothing is pedantic about the historical elements. Instead, Jabbar and Waterhouse integrate this information seamlessly.
The writing is particularly strong. It’s a simplistic style, enabling the reader to move swiftly through the novel without stumbling. Mycroft’s musings are noteworthy, such as “The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.” That revelation, which occurs midway through the novel, serves both as clever foreshadowing and insightful prophecy. It’s a lesson both Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes will remember keenly as they navigate future adventures.
Reviewed by: Colleen J. Shogan, author of the Washington Whodunit mystery series, most recently Homicide in the House (Camel Press, 2016).
Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. She conceived of the plot of her first mystery, Stabbing in the Senate, one morning while taking a walk in her suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at Yale, George Mason University, Georgetown, and Penn. She previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as the Deputy Director of the Congressional Research Service. She is currently a senior executive at the Library of Congress who works on great outreach initiatives such as the National Book Festival. Colleen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan. Stabbing in the Senate won the Next Generation Indie Award in 2016 for “Best Mystery.”
Don’t forget to check out the giveaway for a copy of Colleen’s latest book in her Washington Whodunit series.