Title: Mr Holmes (film tie-in edition)
Author: Mitch Cullin
Release Date: June 4, 2015 (first published in 2005 as A Slight Trick of the Mind)
“It is 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind.
But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking-about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know.” (Canon Gate)
It’s no secret that when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, in 1893, the public backlash was so great that he was forced to resurrect the character. As readers we sometimes have a hard time letting go of characters, particularly those who are embedded into literary folklore, and I think many of us often wonder what happens to characters once their lives are no longer recorded on the page. So it’s nice, and a little bittersweet, when books arrive that revisit some of our favourite characters and we can have at least one explanation for what they’ve been up to since they left us.
In this instance we have Mitch Cullin giving us Sherlock Holmes at the age of 93, living a fairly quiet and largely secluded life at a farmhouse in Sussex. He is still as blunt and perceptive in his old age as the Holmes of old who readers have come to love, but a heavy dose of reality is delivered in the form of a memory that doesn’t retain information in the way it used to, and some small farewells to other much-loved characters. It would seem that not even the greatest of fictional characters are immune to the ravages of time.
The story is told in three different storylines that weave in and out of each other. We have Holmes at his home in Sussex; then we have an account of a recent trip to Japan post World War Two; and finally we have a flashback of sorts as we follow Holmes on a case some 45 years earlier, which has been written down by Holmes for posterity as John Watson once did with their cases.
This book is less of a mystery to be solved than it is a look at the character of Holmes and his development throughout the years. To many he is a man with little time for other people, a solitary creature who is all but above the rest of us. But Cullin reveals that while outwardly this may be the case, inwardly Holmes feels the pain of loss as acutely as the rest of us. His interaction with Roger, the son of his housekeeper, was especially lovely to read, despite an element of Holmesian detachment. He is affectionate towards the boy but in a typical Holmes fashion; one which would leave the person on the receiving end wondering whether it was affection at all.
Overall this was a thoroughly entertaining read and is deserving of the name ‘Holmes’ in its title. For anyone who has seen the film adaptation and is thinking of giving the book a go, just be warned that the film has a far nicer ending than the book. The latter probably has a more fitting conclusion in my opinion, but that’s not to say it didn’t leave me feeling a little enraged. But either way, it’s nice to see the detective in his twilight years and follow him on one more case.