Saturday, August 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: “The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University”

Darlene A. Cypser; Publisher: Foolscap & Quill (May 2012)

[Note: This novel is a direct sequel to Darlene Cypser’s The Crack in the Lens, which was published in December 2010. You can read my review of it here. Spoilers for The Crack in the Lens potentially lay ahead, although I always endeavor to avoid them.]

“Perhaps it would help if they understood what drove him to it,” Sherlock suggested.

“Do you believe that anyone can truly comprehend what goes through a person’s mind at such times?” Dr Mackenzie asked.

“Not if they haven’t been there. But perhaps they can understand the stresses that drove him over the edge of reason.”

It sometimes seems that Sherlock Holmes’s greatest asset is time. His character is at once both timeless and demonstrative of the values and mores of a particular age. It is “always 1895” as the Sherlockians say, but a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who texts and uses the internet, has found himself at the center of a breathtaking upwelling in popularity – and a likewise resurgence of interest in the original Great Detective from whom he was built. Sherlock Holmes always knew how to make use of time. The Canon is full of instances in which the Detective demonstrates an almost transcendental patience in puzzling out a case (TWIS) or waiting for a quarry, but he also knew how important even one second could be in capturing a suspect, or how disastrous one ill-timed movement could be in the course of a chemical experiment (NAVA).

And at the onset of The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University, by Darlene A. Cypser, it would seem that all Sherlock Holmes has going for him is time. The events of The Crack in the Lens have devastated him. Physically, he is weak, unable (or unwilling) to leave his room for extended periods of time, consuming food is necessary but a struggle, and even doing something as simple as climbing stairs is a trial. Emotionally, he is far worse off. Even the smallest triggers seem to send him into stress-induced trances. He cannot bear to set eyes on and compulsively avoids most female members of the household staff. The eldest Holmes brother, Sherrinford, is expecting his first child and the timing of the child’s birth (or perhaps the child’s mere existence) fills Sherlock with anger and guilt. He cannot even look at the snow, and keeps his curtains constantly drawn.

But he is determined to move on, move away. Sherlock’s first experience with time in the novel is how little of it he is willing to waste in getting into university and away from Mycroft Manor. He finds himself enrolled at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge with what almost seems like lightening-speed, perhaps a testament to Sherlock’s determination to prove that he is well. Unfortunately, he has drastically underestimated how much time his recovery would take, and the first snowfall of the season finds Sherlock hugely unprepared, with devastating consequences. Later, he will make another gross miscalculation as the plot of the novel convergences with that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The ‘Gloria Scott’”. The encounter is unquestionably illuminating. As the elder Trevor states:

“I don’t know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands. That’s your line of life, sir, and you may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world.”

But Holmes’s offhand remarks have devastating consequences for Victor Trevor and his father, and certainly there are lasting results for Holmes himself. He learns a lot from his encounter with the Trevors, but more than anything, he learns what he still does not know, and how much time it will take to learn it. Cypser has artfully constructed a Sherlock Holmes who is utterly wrought, his foundation undermined, and all his components stripped away. The Great Detective is a man under construction in this novel; his entire framework has been brought to earth and he is trying to build again from scratch – with all the dangers that entails. The journey is long, and arduous, but Cypser’s young Holmes is certainly a man with the mettle for it.

Sherlock Holmes finds himself flanked on his journey by two companions: the young Jonathan Beckwith, who readers may remember from The Crack in the Lens, has joined Sherlock at university as a personal servant; and Dr. George Mackenzie, who is introduced into Sherlock Holmes’s life when it seems to be at its absolute worst. In The Crack in the Lens, Cypser introduced her readers to Sherrinford Holmes, the eldest of the three Holmes brothers, who seemed a forerunner for Dr. John Watson – earnest and compassionate, a companion for Sherlock Holmes when no one else seemed willing or able to fill the role. Now, Sherrinford is married, with young children, and Sherlock is living away from the manor. It would be unfair and inaccurate to somehow classify every single one of Sherlock Holmes’s pre-Watson companions as a precursor for the Good Doctor, but Jonathan’s and Dr. Mackenzie’s presence prove crucial to Sherlock’s development, nonetheless. From Mackenzie, Sherlock Holmes first learns the necessity of time and patience in the application of knowledge and diligent study (both within and without). From Jonathan, he learns the importance of a companion who remains devoted over any length of time, and through any circumstance.

The transformation of Cypser’s young Sherlock of The Crack in the Lens into the maturing Sherlock Holmes of The Consulting Detective is both subtle and brilliant. By the end of Cypser’s second novel, the reader stands in full knowledge and awareness of the man before them, and you wonder how you missed it, so understated was his development. Where previously there was only the merest hint of the man that would become the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes now stands tall, assembled, if not yet fully-formed. There are miles and years of distance between the “Sherlock” of Mycroft Manor and “Sherlock Holmes” of Baker Street, and while he is not quite yet the man of Doyle’s stories, the readers recognize him. Moreover they know him, and they are glad to see him again. Cypser’s novel is only the first in a trilogy that will take the Great Detective to Baker Street, but right now his path is clear, even if the road is not. And for now, Sherlock Holmes’s greatest asset is still time.


The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  A full list of booksellers is available here.  More information about the novel and its author is available on its website, follow the novel on Facebook, or Darlene Cypser on Twitter.

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