A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
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Long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allowed him to retire to Sussex to take up beekeeping, there seems to be no end of enthusiasm for imagined versions of the life of Sherlock Holmes. There was Michael Chabon`s The Final Solution in which "the old man," an 89-year-old beekeeper in Sussex is undoubtedly Holmes. Laurie King, a fine mystery writer, has appropriated Holmes and created a romance between him and young Mary Russell which has lasted through several enjoyable books. And now, nonagenarian Holmes reappears, most appealingly, in Mitch Cullin`s A Slight Trick of the Mind. He is frail and forgetful but still observant and capable of shining the bright light of his insight and brilliance on events both past and present.
Cullin has carefully woven three stories together and managed it so neatly that no threads show--worthy of Holmes himself. The first is the story of Holmes`s recent return from a trip to Japan, ostensibly in search of prickly ash, a bush that he believes contributes to healthy longevity, as does his beloved and trusted royal jelly. While there, he is met by his correspondent, Mr. Umezaki, who isn`t as interested in prickly ash as in gleaning information from Holmes about his long-gone father. Supposedly, they met many years before, in London, and Holmes advised him not to return home. Of course, Holmes has no recollection of the meeting but finesses it nicely.
It is 1947 when they visit Hiroshima, post-atomic bomb, and Holmes marvels at what he sees. He compares it, most poignantly, to the loss of the queen in a hive, "when no resources were available to raise a new one. Yet how could he explain the deeper illness of unexpressed desolation, that imprecise pall harbored en masse by ordinary Japanese?" That is what he tells Roger, the 14-year-old son of his housekeeper. Roger is the second thread of the novel. Holmes is introducing him to beekeeping and Roger proves an apt student. His hero-worship of Holmes and his need for a father form an integral part of Cullin`s intention of "humanizing" the great Sherlock Holmes.
The final thread is revealed in a journal that Holmes kept, in which he entered an encounter with a married woman, many years ago. He is infatuated with her, and hardly knows what to call it or what to make of his feelings. This is unfamiliar territory for the man who is rational above all else. The man we know at the end of the book makes the reader want another installment, showing a new Sherlock with a heart as well as a brain. --Valerie Ryan