October 12, 2006


Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Casebook No. 1: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas. By Tracy Mack & Michael Citrin. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

The World of Eldaterra, Volume 1: The Dragon Conspiracy. By P.R. Moredun. Eos/HarperCollins. $7.99.

     New worlds open up in the 19th century in both these series starters – worlds with a whiff of reality, or what we think is reality, but with just enough difference to carry along the plots and the characters swept up in them.

     The concept of Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars is a clever one.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually created the Irregulars in the original Sherlock Holmes tales: street urchins who helped Holmes by going places where he, for all his mastery of disguise, would be noticed.  The boys – six of them – appeared in A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Crooked Man, and the name of their group was later adopted by numerous gatherings and clubs of Holmes fans.  Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin are creating a series telling “previously untold” Holmes stories from the perspective of the urchins – and, of course, targeting readers of around the Irregulars’ ages, which is to say preteens.  Mack and Citrin (who, incidentally, are married) bring some very clever twists to their first case, The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas.  They even make it a point to reach out to girls, by having a young gypsy named Pilar join the Irregulars and provide crucial help to Holmes.  The authors retain some of Holmes’ character, including his having little use for women or girls, but they eliminate elements that are not politically correct, such as his addiction to cocaine.  Also, to keep the focus on the Irregulars, Mack and Citrin have Holmes make some errors that the original Conan Doyle character would not have made – an irritant to anyone familiar with the Holmes stories, perhaps, but not to the intended audience for this book.  The book is over-clever in parts, though, notably in an introduction by its purported “real” author, whose name is revealed through a series of capital letters inserted into the pages at intervals – but who could not possibly have been privy to all the events of the story, as those events themselves show.  As for the circus-death mystery itself, readers will likely connect the dots well before Holmes does (Conan Doyle would have shuddered).  But the book is nicely paced and atmospheric, and its appendices are fun – especially the introduction to Cockney rhyming slang, which receives some use within the story itself.

     The World of Eldaterra features late-19th-century investigators, too, primarily Chief Police Inspector Corrick and his Belgian assistant, Inspector La Forge.  But the murders that these characters are looking into in the year 1895 start to come into focus only in 1910, when 14-year-old James Kinghorn discovers the entrance to an older world than our own – called, of course, Eldaterra (not a very creatively chosen name).  The story actually starts in 1910 and flips back and forth between that year and 1895, as the human characters uncover a frightening conspiracy and find themselves in the midst of beings such as the magically endowed Frau Colbetz, a wizard named Sibelius (presumably no relation to the composer), and such creatures as warrior dwarves and “parlanimals” (two of whom James befriends).  The Dragon Conspiracy feels more like a series setup than a fully realized story in its own right, and P.R. Moredun writes as if his adventure could tip over into humor at any time (why name a character “Herr Dorpmuller”?).  Also, some of the supposedly intense magical elements come across as hokey, such as a poem whose final line’s meter is completely wrong: “One step forward if one steps away/ The path lies here and there one goes/ But in this emptiness one must stay/ To work in silence and shadows.”  Still, there are undeniably exciting moments here, and if the complex plot begins to fit together better in later books, The World of Eldaterra may reach an appreciative audience.  A wait-and-see attitude is in order.

No comments:

Post a Comment