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The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase


The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase

Damien March is a 30-something man who slogs through news wire reports on the night shift at the BBC in London, surrounded by younger and more ambitious men. His humdrum routine --- apartment-office-apartment --- is interrupted by a telegram from his father announcing the death of his enigmatic American uncle Patrick.  

Patrick was a writer, famous in his younger years, who self-destructed as he aged by giving vent to outrageous literary ideas in the name of artistic experimentation. He died under the label of eccentric on Ionia, an island off Maine, where he lived in a house crammed with his enormous and various odd collections.  

Damien had not been particularly close to his uncle and is surprised to find he has been named the primary heir of all of Patrick's possessions, including his home. With hardly a moment's hesitation, Damien throws off the burden of his boring life in London and moves into Patrick's former home for what he means to be a fresh start in life.  

Alas, once he arrives, things are not as he had hoped. He is under the legal mandate of keeping everything in the house just as it is, which makes him feel like a curator in The Museum of Patrick. Without the daily routine he is used to, Damien finds himself struggling to occupy his time. He tries fixing things around the house, landscape-painting on the widow's walk and strolling around the island. This proves unsatisfying until he finds a manuscript written by his uncle that is much more promising --- and disturbing --- than anything he had written in his later years. The manuscript tells the story of Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Sherlock alluded to in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. It's obvious to Damien that Patrick saw himself in a similar light to Mycroft: much more brilliant but less able to get on in the world than his younger brother.  

Damien sees himself in Mycroft as well --- squandering his life, his brain cells. And while this theme unfortunately remains nearly untouched upon in the novel, it's the real point. Today, many young people feel boggled by the opportunities before them in life. Theoretically, one can go to college, study anything, do anything. Life is less prescribed and less predictable than it used to be, and many retreat from the race in response --- to let life wash over them. This is what Damien has done until he finds the manuscript and becomes curious about his mysterious uncle, around whom he always felt an inexplicable tension.

Damien works to unravel the mystery of the manuscript, which he believes holds the clue to his uncle Patrick's troubled life. What he finds is that the truth involves his and his own father's lives as much as it does Patrick's. While the dull clue-hunt takes far too much precedence over the potentially disturbing, larger implications of Damien's life, such as it has been, Marcel Theroux's writing is smooth and the relations and dialogue between family members uncomfortably realistic.

Reviewed by Stephanie Sorensen on March 16, 2001

The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase
by Marcel Theroux

  • Publication Date: March 16, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0151006474
  • ISBN-13: 9780151006472