REVIEW: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: political statement about race and slavery, unsurprising adventure, a simple good-vs-evil read

Quick Review: While the adventure portion of the story is not bad, this book is far better appreciated if you pretend the Mycroft in this book has nothing to do with the Mycroft Holmes of ACD canon.

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Young Mycroft Holmes has recently graduated from Cambridge and is in the process of setting up his idyllic life, with a job in the government and a pretty and interesting fiancée. One day, that all comes crashing to a halt, as a series of disappearances of children in their native Trinidad cause his close friend and tobacco seller Cyrus Douglas and his fiancée great concern. Mycroft sets out on a journey across the globe to Trinidad to unravel the mystery of the disappearances, putting his own life and happiness in jeopardy.

MYCROFT HOLMES is a fairly un-mysterious adventure story that attempts to use Holmesian canon to make a statement about racial relations.

While never really feeling like a true mystery, this story read much like a Disney action-adventure movie (à la Pirates of the Caribbean, but less funny). Every twist and reveal was unsurprising, but it was not a bad little adventure after all – despite being clearly written to emphasize the barbarity and injustice of colonial race relations at the time.

I definitely appreciated the little references to Holmesian canon and extra-canon pieces, like the mention of Mycroft learning methods of observation and deduction from Dr. Joseph Bell, a “friend of his father’s”. We also get to see references to Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson, and even have a chapter with Mycroft’s more famous brother, Sherlock.

My biggest disappointment in this book comes in the actual characterization of Mycroft Holmes. I appreciate the difficulty in recreating the characters of other authors, particularly when it comes to the Holmes canon. (Full disclosure: I am an avid Holmes fan and particularly fussy about the characterizations of Holmes and associated characters in Sherlockian pastiche; there are very few that I actually like.) However, for me the minimum requirement is that the characters in question actually bear a passing resemblance to the characters they are supposed to represent.

While there is not a lot of Mycroft in original canon – he appears in only four of the stories – and as such, his characterization is open to some interpretation, many of the features that we actually know about Mycroft are completely ignored in this story. He is presented in canon as a man with a particularly sedentary and solitary lifestyle, but in this story is full of action and emotion: he climbs fences, boxes with Sherlock (at his own suggestion), sets off on an adventure across the globe chasing the woman he has fallen in love with, and has his own, less ‘socially acceptable’ Watson.

As an example, in “The Bruce-Partington Plans”, Mycroft is described as “Heavily built and massive, [with] a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure…”. In MYCROFT HOLMES, he is described as delighting in his horse’s – and his own – “easy athleticism”, and as having a “sculpted physique”. It is hard to reconcile the two descriptions.

Characters and people change and evolve over time, but this version of Mycroft was so at odds with the Mycroft as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that it is almost impossible to imagine one becoming the other. I actually had to stop and put the book down a few times because the descriptions and actions of Mycroft were so at odds with my expectations. Once I started to pretend the character was just named Mycroft Holmes, and was not actually supposed to be the Mycroft of canon, I was able to enjoy the story to the end.

If you are interested in reading a purportedly Holmesian novel by an NBA superstar, you could do worse than MYCROFT HOLMES. Don’t look for canon Holmes and you can enjoy it as a light action-adventure novel without much substance or any memorable features, but decent enough for a quick distraction.

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