I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan for longer than I care to remember. The original stories, the new novel House of Silk which I reviewed recently, the Basil Rathbone movies, the Jeremy Brett movies, and the new ones made for the cinema with Robert Downey Jr., are all part and parcel, all excelling in some areas, all having some quirk or surprise of characterization to recommend them. I just eat it all up. Today I read a Sherlock Holmes that centers around the Baker Street Irregulars, those ragamuffin street urchins engaged by Holmes to be his eyes and ears around the markets, docks, and alleys of Victorian England to garner information and help solve the case.
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas: Casebook No. 1 by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin is the first in a series. This adventure not only introduces children to an England of the past and the dangerous life of the poor and destitute children of London but to a bit of the history of the monarchy, the awe of Buckingham Palace and the excitement of the strange and somewhat bizarre world under the big top — the Grand Barboza Circus!
The authors bring together a diverse group of young boys with a range of skills from Stitch who does the tailoring, making slippers and sewing up cuts, to Ozzie who not only reads and writes but is well on his way to being a master forger, to Wiggins the generally acknowledged leader of the group who not only commands respect of all the boys but has a pet ferret called Shirley. Just to keep things interesting, a young girl from the circus, Pilar, is added into the mix. She is the daughter of the fortune teller and has a talent for reading lips.
After a brief preface, the story very quickly draws the reader into the thrilling and tense act of the Amazing Zalindas, tightrope performers, both experienced and daring. Suspicious characters observe from the shadows as, barely into their death-defying act, the three Zalindas totter, then fall as their rope unravels quickly under their weight and they crash to the ground far below.
How does this relate to the silent arrival of the carriage of the Prince of Wales at 221B Baker Street? What does the theft of a precious book from the Palace have to do with the murder, for murder it is, of the Amazing Zalindas? It is for Holmes to tie everything together and just when everything seems to be going well, that is when the master criminal slips from their grasp, the book is more than a book, the master forger becomes a prisoner, and Pilar proves to be her weight in gold.
The back of this book contains a cast of the Irregulars as well as the other characters from the book, a dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang, how to create your own slang, the importance of hats as disguises, and a glossary of Victorian travel — in other words, a wealth of information to help the uninitiated understand the story and enjoy it more fully. This is a great novel for boys and girls in the junior grades who love adventure. * * * * *