Becom­ing Holmes: The Boy Sher­lock Holmes, His Final Case

  • Review
By – May 29, 2013
Sher­lock Holmes is in the pub­lic domain now, which means that any­one can use the name and cre­ate a ver­sion of the famous Vic­to­ri­an, ornery-yet-bril­liant, Lon­don sleuth. On the Amer­i­can sil­ver screen, he was recent­ly revived as an almost com­i­cal action hero with a cyn­i­cal Wat­son by his side and a nut­ty, eccen­tric broth­er at his heels. On the British small screen, he was recent­ly re-cre­at­ed as a mod­ern-day pri­vate detec­tive, engaged in patron­iz­ing assis­tance to the Lon­don police with a Dr. Wat­son who is a recent­ly injured sol­dier return­ing from an Afghanistan bat­tle­field, try­ing to fit back into life as a civil­ian. It’s all about cell phones and GPSs, mod­ern trans­porta­tion and tech­nol­o­gy, and police CSI work, with a Mori­ar­ty who is a mod­ern-day ter­ror­ist in the style of the James Bond vil­lains; a psy­chot­ic genius who is afraid of no one, of whom every­one else is ter­ri­fied, and who has no con­vic­tions as far as human­i­ty is con­cerned. The book at hand, Becom­ing Holmes, is the sixth, and final install­ment in the series The Boy Sher­lock Holmes by Shane Pea­cock, writ­ten between 2007 – 2012. One need not read the entire series in suc­ces­sion in order to under­stand the cur­rent plot. Pea­cock kind­ly sup­plies the occa­sion­al ref­er­ence to cas­es dealt with in the pre­vi­ous books but oth­er­wise, it is ful­ly self-suf­fi­cient. 

The orig­i­nal Sher­lock Holmes books, not atyp­i­cal of the Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture of the time, are not kind to Jew­ish tra­di­tion, reli­gion and cul­ture. Although the books are not anti ‑Semit­ic, per se, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle indulged in mild anti-Semi­tism on occa­sion, which is evi­dent in some of the orig­i­nal books. Here, Pea­cock plays with what many avid Holmes fans and mod­ern re-cre­ators often obsess about, fill­ing in the gaps in his oth­er­wise miss­ing ear­ly biog­ra­phy. Pea­cock choos­es to make Holmes half Jew­ish, thus mak­ing Holmes’ efforts to move up in the world as a cred­i­ble and respect­ed detec­tive more chal­leng­ing by the mere fact of his shame­ful” birth. More­over, he is ridiculed, detest­ed and almost ostra­cized by the fact of his parent­age. There is lit­tle evi­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tion for Holmes as a Jew in the book. His name is Gen­tile as is his brother’s, his busi­ness is with Gen­tiles, and the read­er nev­er gains a clue as to whether his adopter and pro­tec­tor, the apothe­cary Siger­son Bell, is him­self of Jew­ish her­itage, despite his great close­ness to Holmes’ par­ents, now dead. Yet Holmes can­not escape his parent­age. The fact of his Jew­ish­ness comes up repeat­ed­ly. On many an occa­sions he is called half-Jew” or half breed”, even if a superla­tive such as bril­liant” pre­cedes the offen­sive term. But his bril­liance rarely opens doors for him before his half-breed­ness needs to be con­test­ed. At some point we are noti­fied that the main, ani­mal-like villain’s hench­man hates the Ger­mans, the Dutch, the Irish, espe­cial­ly the Black Africans, and, of course, the Jews” (p. 164). Jew-boy will die. Hate Jews. Hate” (p. 225), he cries vehe­ment­ly in the last show­down scene. Anoth­er inter­est­ing Jew­ish con­nec­tion pro­vid­ed by this Holmes re-cre­ation has to do with Irene Adler, Holmes’ life­long unat­tain­able love inter­est. She starts out as a Gen­tile woman, Irene Doyle. But, after her father’s death, she goes to New York City and is adopt­ed by Jew­ish fam­i­ly, thus bear­ing a Jew­ish sur­name for­ev­er aft er. While young Sher­lock Holmes tries to prove to all and sundry that he is wor­thy despite his eth­nic back­ground, Miss Adler is depict­ed as per­fect­ly com­fort­able in her adop­tive Jew­ish skin and car­ries her name with pride and gratitude. 

The Jew­ish sub­text of the book is, if not cen­tral, still vis­i­ble and notice­able. It gives us a gen­uine glimpse into the Vic­to­ri­an atti­tudes toward for­eign­ers in their midst and how loathed many of them were. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 14, the writ­ing style is clever and engag­ing and the mys­tery plot is sus­pense­ful and excit­ing, a true page-turn­er. Read­ers who missed oth­er vol­umes in the series will wish to catch up. 
Noa Paz Wahrman is a Jew­ish stud­ies librar­i­an and bib­li­og­ra­ph­er at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty in Bloom­ing­ton IN.

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