three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
By: 
Mitch Cullin
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-SlightTrickMindWhat if the Victorian sleuth survived his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, and lived to age 93 in the late 1940s? He might retire to the English countryside, concern himself with bee-keeping, mentor an adolescent boy, and, through correspondence, find new mysteries to solve. Cullin reveals the once unflappable Holmes struggling as his body weakens and his once formidable powers of observation fade with age. Grappling with a world fundamentally changed by World War II, Holmes reflects on his past with Dr. Watson, the horrors of Hiroshima, and the difficulties of facing mortality.
Talese/Doubleday. 253 pages. $23.95.
ISBN: 0385513283

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"A multi-faceted, sympathetic portrait of a great man … and it doesn’t matter at all that Sherlock Holmes was never a real person. The psyche and its lessons are all the same, and Cullin has captured them brilliantly." Marta Salij

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This very beautiful novel is about Sherlock Holmes—or, more accurately, about the human being who lives behind the public mask of Holmes as that mask begins to crumble. … This is a lovely, tenderhearted book, full of reserve, good manners, elegance of feeling." Carolyn See

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Melancholy and gentle in tone. … Not so much a mystery as a deftly woven character sketch, Cullin’s tale creates a Holmes who remains recognizable, but who’s become more wistful and human as a result of the damage done by world wars and the passing of decades."
Yvonne Zipp

Salon.com 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[This novel] proceeds in a circling, unchronological manner that would have driven its subject mad with impatience, but so be it. Most of us are not cold, precise or impervious to the softer passions Cullin evokes so stealthily and to such final, piercing effect." Laura Miller

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Cullin sets his tale at the uttermost end of Holmes’s life, and it is not a pleasant good-night. … Fans of Sherlock Holmes must collect data elsewhere."
Jackie Loohauis

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Conan Doyle’s] Holmes was believable and beloved precisely because his inner life was left to the readers’ imaginations. … [Cullin’s] novel lacks the tautness of a Conan Doyle mystery, and, deprived of mystery around which to work, Sherlock Holmes is rendered even less real." Alexandra Yurkovsky

Critical Summary

Many critics enjoyed Cullin’s sensitive depiction of one of mystery writing’s best-loved heroes, which recalls Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution: A Story of Detection ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005). In this novel, Sherlock Holmes is not the objective and decisive detective we expect, but rather an aging man filled with regret at missed opportunities, particularly lost romance. Reviewers praised the way Cullin plays Holmes against the other two most important characters—Roger, the 14-year-old protégé at the apiary, and Mr. Umezaki, a Japanese man who enlists Holmes to help him find his long-lost father. Most agreed that this is a well-executed story, but some found the Holmes-Watson backstory sketchy, while others could not get past the concept of a vulnerable Holmes.