As his classmates pack up and prepare to depart boarding school for summer break, 14-year-old Sherlock Holmes is summoned to the headmaster's study. There, Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft, shares some disturbing news. Their father has been dispatched to India, and due to their mother's delicate condition, Sherlock will not be able to return home for the summer. Sherlock pleads his case to stay in London with Mycroft, but his older brother's job prohibits him from caring for the inquisitive and active teenager.
As an alternative, Mycroft has made arrangements for Sherlock to spend his time with their taciturn Uncle Sherrinford Holmes and fidgety Aunt Anna --- which doesn't appeal to Sherlock at all. To make matters worse, his uncle's disagreeable housekeeper, Mrs. Eglantine, skulks in the background, spying on his every move.
Sherlock's summer turns from mind-numbingly dull to downright promising after he meets a boy his age while hiking in the woods around his uncle's estate. Matty Arnatt is a homeless waif who scrounges for food and travels over canals across England with Albert, his aging horse. Sherlock's life takes a dramatic turn when Amyus Crowe enters the scene. Crowe, an American living in England with his teenage daughter, Virginia, has been hired by Mycroft to tutor Sherlock.
Through unconventional training methods, Crowe taps into Sherlock's inquisitive nature and powers of deduction. During one excursion, young Sherlock spies what appears to be a cloud of black smoke rising from a man's body. After discovering a disfigured corpse covered with bloody boils, he uses observation and intuition to deduce how the body got into the woods and what caused the man's death. As he and his cohorts dig deeper, they uncover a sinister plot masterminded by a twisted villain bent on bringing down the British Empire.
Andrew Lane's first installment in his series featuring a young Sherlock Holmes is a winner. Although slow in the beginning, the story picks up speed as the mystery unfolds. Lane paints a vivid picture of the danger and drudgery of British life, and his creative insight into Sherlock's early influences are fascinating, with glimpses of Sherlock's family background, education, development of a curious mind --- and hints of the beginning of an addiction.
Crowe is an intriguing character, but I found his American dialect, with his continuin' droppin' of his g's a bit off-puttin'. One other nitpick: The florid script of the handwritten letters, while adding to the authenticity, is difficult to read. Other than those very minor hiccups, DEATH CLOUD is a great beginning to a series I hope will continue. It should be a hit with fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and adventurous readers who love a great mystery.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on February 1, 2011