The Dragon Turn is the fifth book in Shane Peacock’s Boy Sherlock Holmes series, and the first one I’ve read. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so reading a book about a teenage version of him will either be an absolute delight or an absolute disaster, depending on how Peacock chooses to portray him. I was also worried I might’ve outgrown YA adaptations of older characters. For example, I used to devour The Nancy Drew Notebooks, the Starfleet Academy series, even the Young Jedi Knights series. Now, while I still like YA, I’ve felt no desire to go back to those books.
I really liked Dragon Turn. Its mystery is more mystical (it involves a dragon) than I expected a Sherlock Holmes story to be, but, like all Holmes stories, presents a logical solution. A magician called the Wizard of Nottingham is killed. All that’s left of him are his blood and spectacles in the office of his professional and romantic rival Hemsworth. The climax of Hemsworth’s act involves a dragon, which offers a possible, gruesome explanation to the disappearance of the Wizard’s corpse.
Peacock’s Sherlock is a highly intelligent, logical fifteen year old, who already has plans of becoming a detective when he gets older but who, in the meantime, just wants to keep a low profile. He’s half-Jewish, and so faces discrimination, which may explain part of his desire to remain below the radar. So, rather than take credit for mystery solving, Sherlock feeds information to Lestrade, a young police officer intent on impressing his Inspector father. I love this characterization of Sherlock and young Lestrade. The adult Holmes is such a confident, almost arrogant man, and I love seeing this younger version of him as more vulnerable, insecure and self-conscious. He’s sympathetic in a much different way from the adult Holmes, yet he maintains the intelligence and logic that so characterize Holmes as a detective.
I also enjoyed seeing Lestrade as a young man longing for approval. I was expecting either a bumbling, incompetent Lestrade or an absolute bully, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him so sympathetic. He’s still incompetent as a detective, but his desire to impress his father casts a whole new light on his approach towards detecting.
Peacock even gives Sherlock a love life, which I don’t usually enjoy in mysteries, but which I liked here. Romance also prompts a reluctant Sherlock to get involved in the Wizard’s case. Sherlock’s girlfriend Irene Doyle (who, I presume, will grow up to marry a Mr. Adler and later become The Woman in Holmes’ life) was promised a boost in her stage career by Hemsworth, so she convinces Sherlock to help prove Hemsworth’s innocence. It’s a complicated case, and soon even Sherlock isn’t sure about what really happened to the Wizard. I did figure out the answer before the big reveal, but then the book is aimed at readers much younger than I am (never mind how much younger), so that’s really nothing to brag about. (I’m still bragging, though. I almost never guess the answer before the big reveal!) Still, Peacock pieces together the puzzle well, and I loved seeing Sherlock before he became the infallible detective we all know.
Dragon Turn is a wonderful book. I think its target audience (ages 10 – 14) will love it for its adventure, mystery and characters, and, as an older reader, I enjoyed it for the way Peacock wrote Sherlock Holmes. On a minor note, I much prefer Beatrice Leckie to the more worldly and manipulative Irene Doyle. As far as I know, Beatrice is a wholly Peacock-created character, and she’s just a lovely Betty Cooper-type character, and I’m crossing my fingers that Sherlock will eventually end up with her, if only in Boy Sherlock Holmes.