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Holmes Sweet Holmes

A New Children’s Book Series Portrays Sherlock as a Teenager
By Jonathan Shipley

British and American magazines ran installments of Sherlock's adventures.
Portrait of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget.
Portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle.
British and American magazines ran installments of Sherlock's adventures.
All images courtesy of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate.

“Elementary school, my dear Watson,” a young Sherlock Holmes might say. Or words to that effect, in a new series of books about the life of a teenage Sherlock Holmes. The estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle authorized the series, after deputizing British author, journalist, and avid Sherlock Holmes collector Andrew Lane. Lane’s first installment is due out next spring.

“I remember that one of the first books I ever bought,” Lane recalls, “at a church jumble sale in East London, was A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a cheap 1930s hardback reprint and I must have been around 12.” Now married with child in Hampshire, England, Lane has become something of a Holmes “Super Fan,” collecting oodles of Sherlock Holmes–related books.

After tearing through Doyle’s literary output on Sherlock Holmes (stories like “The Adventure of the Dying Detective”; “The Adventure of the Garridebs”; and Lane’s favorite, “The Speckled Band,” for its “perfect mix of detection, atmosphere, and grotesquery”), Lane started looking elsewhere for Sherlock Holmes reads. “I became aware that other writers were putting together their own stories using the character. Some were good, some bad, but I started going out of my way to secondhand bookshops to track them down.” A bit of a detective himself—if only a book detective—Lane, who has written spin-off novels for Doctor Who and TV scripts for Space Island One, created a rich Holmes collection. Some of his well-thumbed books include Marcel D’Agneau’s Curse of the Neiblung, Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, Richard L. Boyer’s The Great Rat of Sumatra, and James Edward Holroyd’s Baker Street Byways.

Suffering from what he assumes to be obsessive-compulsive disorder (“once I start collecting something I have to have it all—and I’m still going”), Lane haunts every old bookshop he can find. When in London he heads up to Charing Cross Road on lunch breaks, sleuthing for yet another elusive Sherlock tome. “The one I will never get rid of,” Lane remarks of his ever-growing collection, “is the William Baring Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It’s invaluable.”

Invaluable it will be, as Lane creates a Holmes teenager for young 21st-century readers. Don’t expect a 14-year-old geek with a deerstalker cap being made fun of in gym class. Don’t expect Holmes to run for student government or play trombone in the pep band, either. “I want to show the path that leads from a rather lonely, moody teenager to a man who has, in some ways, turned his back on society and retreated into himself, and by doing so show that Holmes is not extraordinary at all, but has been forced by circumstance to become something that, but for the grace of God, any of us could have become.”

Lane secured a contract with Macmillan Children’s Books for the series, the first book of which is slated for spring 2010. Macmillan, Lane notes, “clearly understands not only what we want to do with the character but also the attraction of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories.”

And what will curious readers uncover when they turn the pages of the new series of books? “You can expect to find out how he learns to box and play the violin, how he takes up martial arts and single-stick fighting and discovers chemistry, and how he gains interest in bees and music and America,” Lane reveals. The series begins with a case referenced by Doyle but never explained fully, “The Colossal Schemes of Baron Maupertius.” A young Holmes will uncover a series of murders in Surrey while his father is posted to far-off India.

What you shouldn’t expect to see are Watson, Moriarty, Dracula, or any other well-known Victorian characters, except that Lane might try to sneak Dickens in. Also, don’t expect Holmes caricatures or two-dimensionality. “I want to unpeel the layers of the man,” says Lane.

Given an initial deal of three novels, Lane will gradually get Holmes through school and university, ending at the moment when Holmes meets Watson in St. Bart’s Hospital. “You must have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” Holmes says at that first meeting. To which Watson replies, as everyone well knows, “How on earth did you know that?”

The writer lives on Vashon Island, Washington.

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