The year is 1868. Farnham, a community northwest of London provides the setting. Sherlock, a fourteen-year-old teen, has just received the disconcerting news that he will be spending the summer holiday with an uncle and aunt whom he has never met.
His older brother, Mycroft, will deliver him there from school. It seems that his father, in the military, has been sent to India and his mother of delicate health is not quite herself. Mycroft, newly employed by the Foreign Office is in no position to provide him guidance and care.
Needless to say Sherlock does not feel welcome at the estate of these relatives with an uncle prone toward piety and an aunt constantly carrying on conversations with herself. Then, too, there is the housekeeper, Mrs. Eglantine--Child, be aware that you are not welcome here. Her sinister character is further enhanced with words of warning in a later letter from Mycroft.
With unease on the home front Sherlock, wandering in the wooded area surrounding the estate, meets Matty Arnatt, a street smart orphan. From Matty he learns of the strange dark cloud that he saw slither from a recent death scene in town. From that moment the game is afoot!
Sherlock, per his brother's request, is assigned a tutor in the person of Amyus Crowe, an American with his own brand of reasoning. Information is the foundation of all rational thought. Seek it out. Collect it assiduously...Don't attempt to distinguish between important facts and trivial facts: they're all potentially important.
A mastermind villain, Baron Maupertuis, makes his first appearance, Through the carriage window, Sherlock was momentarily shocked to see a pale, almost skeletal face framed with wispy white hair staring at him with unblinking eyes that were small and pink, like the eyes of a white rat. He felt an instant flash of instinctive revulsion, as if he had reached out for a lettuce leaf on his dinner plate and touched a slug instead.
Who is the mysterious rider sitting astride a horse at the end of the drive to the Holmes estate? It is the independent, free-thinking, feisty teen daughter of Amyus, Virginia Crowe. She is the final, vital link in this partnership.
This newly formed trio with the assistance of Mr. Crowe race through the pages urged on by the discovery of another sore-covered corpse with a cloud of death rising from the body, the unusual yellow powder at both scenes, a raging fire, two kidnappings and murderous thugs in the Baron's hire Time is of the essence as the fate of the British Empire hangs in a precarious balance.
To be sure this is a rollicking, rousing romp of a mystery adventure. Victorian life in England, vividly brought to life with picturesque particulars, offers further deomonstration of Lane's accomplishments as an author; not as a distraction but as an enhancement to the action. Andrew Lane exhibits his life-long fervor of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books by delivering a well-researched bridge to the later years of Sherlock Holmes' life. Old fans of all ages will welcome his captivating perspective. New readers will relish this introduction to a character so well received over time that it's as if he walked among us.
As to Death Cloud I say, Excellent! Andrew Lane replies, Elementary.
Book two, Red Leech, does not appear to be available yet except in audio form.
It is interesting to note that Anthony Horowitz, well known for his Alex Rider young adult series, has been given permission by The Conan Doyle Estate, 81 years after Doyle's death, to continue the original Sherlock Holmes adventures with a new title, The House of Silk, having a release date of November 1, 2011.
What a ride awaits Holmes fans because of Lane and Horowitz.