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Mycroft Holmes

December 9, 2015

MycroftHolmesThe afterlife of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes, is as good an argument for limited copyright as there is in the English language.

Conan Doyle published his last Sherlock Holmes story in 1927 but even as early 1907 other writers were adapting and adding to Holmes and the world he lived in.  Theo von Blankensee replaced Dr. Watson with Harry Taxon (a Baker Street Irregular) and Mrs. Hudson with Mrs. Bonnet in his early 20th century German series of novels. Carole Nelson Douglas has written a series featuring Irene Adler (“the woman”, to Sherlock).  Michael Kurland has a James Moriarty series. Laurie King has a series featuring Mary Russell, Sherlock’s much younger wife, who he meets after he’s retired to Sussex to take up beekeeping.

There are hundreds of Sherlock Holmes movies—dating back to the 19th century—and scores of comedy, drama and musical adaptations and inventions performed on stages around the world.  There’s a contemporary Sherlock Holmes in London on the BBC (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and one in New York on CBS (played by Jonny Lee Miller, with Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson). There’s even a puppet show on NHK featuring the teenaged Holmes and Watson at boarding school.

Add now to the ever-growing list of provocative and entertaining Holmes adaptations, Mycroft Holmes, by former NBA great and current public intellectual Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and his co-author, Anna Waterhouse.

Like many famous athletes, Abdul-Jabbar has written a couple of memoirs.  Unlike many famous athletes, he’s also written about the Harlem Renaissance, the lost history of African-American inventors, the challenges and exploits of the 761st Tank Battalion in WW II, and little-known heroes like Peter Salem and Joseph Cinque.

Abdul-Jabbar draws on his family roots* to send a young (23) Mycroft Holmes (at the beginning of his career serving in Her Majesty’s Government) to Trinidad.  Holmes is accompanied by his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a middle-aged London cigar merchant and Black native of Trinidad.  Mycroft’s fianceé, Georgiana Sutton, is also originally from Trinidad and still has family living there.

Much of the book’s action takes place (after a long, stormy and dangerous passage from London aboard ship) in and around Port of Spain, then as now, a wonderfully and wildly diverse city.  Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse weave a tale that involves the deaths of young children, the lougarou, and an attempted revival of the slave trade, all set in the wake of the American Civil War and at the height of the British Empire’s power.

It also imagines for us a young, vigorous, playful, physically active and adept Mycroft Holmes (Conan Doyle, by contrast, describes an older Mycroft as “heavily built and massive, there was a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure“).  As is true for the best of literary pastiches, Abdul-Jabbar roots his characters deeply in the vocabulary and traditions of his source material (i.e., Conan Doyle’s stories and novels) while also expanding the boundaries of the Sherlock Holmes universe (and the reader’s imagination).  Mycroft Holmes is a delightful read both for those deeply immersed in Holmesiana (e.g., Dr. Joseph Bell makes an appearance) and for newcomers to the world of Sherlock Holmes and his smarter, older brother.

*”My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor, who came here from Trinidad in the 18th century.

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