Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas

25 May

9780439828369_p0_v2_s260x420As a Sherlockian, I was excited when I heard about Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas, even though it came out in 2006. That goes to show how behind the times I am, but Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin created a book well worth visiting. It’s an excellent read for late elementary and middle school readers who are intrigued by Sherlock Holmes or the mystery genre.

The novel, the first in a series, focuses on the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes’s network of street urchins who help him in his cases. In the original canon stories, little is known about them, except that the leader of the group is named Wiggins. The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas follows Wiggins and his gang, particularly Ozzie, an orphan who works for a heartless scrivener.

The mystery starts as a simple one: How did the tightrope-walking Zalindas fall to their deaths at a nearby circus? Evidence suggests it was an accident, but foul play is suspected. This mystery gives way to a greater one involving a priceless book.

I immediately felt sympathy for Ozzie, who shows enough cleverness to impress the great detective himself. The rest of the gang is given character as well: the tough leader Wiggins, Alfie, who makes up for his small size with fierceness, a kind Punjabi boy named Rohan, and Eliot, an Irish seamster.

Although the group is strictly a boys’ club, investigations at the circus lead them to a fortune-teller’s daughter, Pilar. She insists on helping them, and her stubbornness and bravery results in Holmes calling her “a little Irene Adler” – a huge compliment considering that Adler was “The Woman”, one of the few women Holmes ever admired!

Sherlock Holmes is a secondary character to the boys in this story, but an important mentor to the boys. Coauthor Michael Citrin is a Sherlock Holmes fan and it shows- there are lots of canonical references and nods throughout the story.

One thing that broke my heart about the book, though, was the reduction of Holmes’s assistant Watson to a rather mean-spirited buffoon who didn’t help in investigations and disliked the Irregulars throughout the story. I suppose that taking Watson out of the equation gives the boys more opportunity to interact with Holmes, but so many adaptations and pastiches already give poor Watson the short end of the stick.

The book contains a satisfying story by itself, but it also sets up bigger questions for the series. Will Ozzie find out who his father is? How will the boys’ relationships with each other grow and change?

The book also contains several full-page illustrations done by Greg Ruth, which are done in pen and ink and have an appropriately timeless feel to them. And keep your eye out for out of place bold letters in the text. A secret message is threaded through the book!


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