Why says you can’t learn and develop as a human being from reading fiction? Surely not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who became a devotee of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels in the early days of his National Basketball Association career. He was awed by Holmes’ powers of observation and used his methods to improve his own on the basketball court. He scored 38,387 points during his career, and still holds the crown for the most ever.
But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who studied history at UCLA, also loved literature and after penning a memoir turned to writing for all of us Sherlock Holmes aficionados, beginning with Mycroft Holmes in 2016. His publisher, Titan Books, favors novels by authors who keep the Holmes brothers’ adventures alive, even though it’s been 113 years since Doyle published the final work, His Last Bow, a collection of short stories.
Abdul-Jabbar, in his first Holmes novel, chose to concentrate on Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, who in 1870 is 23 years old and no slouch when it comes to ferreting out mysteries. (Sherlock appears in a cameo.) But being youthful, he misses a few of the nuances of understanding other people—notably his best friend Cyrus Douglas, a Black man who owns Holmes’ favorite tobacconist, and his affianced, the fair and beautiful Georgiana Sutton.
And before you can utter “The game is afoot!”, one of Sherlock’s favorite remarks, you the reader are swept out of London, onto a steamer bound for Trinidad, and a wild assortment of dangerous events which, at first, bear no relationship to one another, but do indeed.
The novel is sweeping in both its depth and breadth: old English money, the beginnings of the oil business, the slave trade, the dangers of love as well as those seeking new, easy money. I found I was barely able to turn pages fast enough.
Abdul-Jabbar was fortunate to have Anna Waterhouse as his co-author, for her British background roots the novel in true facts, some merely interesting, others quite deplorable. We learn that as hard as we try as civilized people to outgrow habituated attitudes and beliefs, they often stick with us whether we like it or not.
And as much as I enjoyed turning those pages, so did I admire the cover art. Mycroft Holmes and the second volume, Mycroft and Sherlock, are both handsome works, but the first is scintillatingly Victorian in design.