As a non-sports nerd, I have to admit that my prime awareness of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes from his engagingly awkward role in Airplane. So when I first read that he was doing a Holmesian pastiche, Mycroft Holmes, my initial response was a loud huh? As I waited for my review copy to arrive, though, I began looking into some of the writing the man’s done over the years – most notably a recent thoughtful piece on election year Islamophobia – which got me considering the possibility that his Baker Street tribute might not be half bad.
Now that I’ve read the man’s collaboration with Anna Waterhouse, (Titan Books), I can see that I was pitifully short-sighted. Focusing on Sherlock’s older brother before he became the established governmental power that we know from the canon, Abdul-Jabbar’s book is an engaging piece of Victoriana. The book catches Mycroft as a 23-year-old secretary to the Secretary of War, a rising star who is also engaged to the beautiful Georgiana Sutton and friend to Cyrus Douglas, a tobacconist of African descent. Both Georgiana and Cyrus hail from the island of Trinidad, and when the latter learns of a series of child murders and mysterious disappearances on his birthplace island, he and Mycroft decide to investigate the events which locals are attributing to a lougaroo, a giant demonic mosquito thought to drain the blood of children.
Holmes and Douglas board a ship headed for Trinidad – and so, apparently, does Georgina, which has the reader wondering about Mycroft’s fiancé’s connections to the sinister events on the island. The trip proves perilous, and sunny Trinidad turns out to be even more so as our detecting duo come upon a massive conspiracy on the island connected to a slave ring (euphemistically called “the genteel trade.”) The authors keep their gratifyingly blood-and-thunderous story perking with plenty of sharp deductive dialog and scenic details. None too surprisingly, Douglas (who one can imagine being played by a younger version of the former basketball star in a movie of the book) gets plenty of moments of physical daring-do, though our title lead also is afforded the opportunity to be more than just a walking brainbox.
Written in the third person, Mycroft Holmes doesn’t mimic the voice of the classic Conan Doyle tales, though the thoughts and attitudes of its two protagonists are decidedly of that era. We even get to briefly meet the young Sherlock as too-smart student, and while he doesn’t get involved in any of the action, he does provide some thematic thoughts on the nature of human evil. All in all, Mycroft Holmes proves a strong addition to the ever-growing Baker Street mythology.