This book is less Sherlockian than many previous works intended for young audiences. Its hero is not Sherlock Holmes but Holmes's downstairs neighbour, a much less successful private investigator with the born-loser name of Rupert Snodgrass. In Snodgrass of 221A Baker Street, Lethcoe has created a character with great comic potential, although he then squanders much of that potential by having Snodgrass rapidly lose his grumpy eccentricities under the sunny influence of Sharpe, his nephew (his American nephew, of course, since the market for the book is presumably on the west side of the Atlantic).
An interesting aspect of the book is that the young American is distinctly Christian, who prays when under stress and tries to live up to his father's Methodist teachings. This feature of his character is not constantly harped upon — not, for example, as obtrusive as the awkward Christianity of Geoffrey Weston in The Case of the Invisible Thief and its sequels three decades ago — but it is persistent, and of course deliberate. At the book's end, the author provides some questions to test the young reader's perception and reasoning ability. Among them: "God gives us different gifts. If you were to help Griffin and his uncle solve crimes, what do you think you'd have to offer?" The premise and question are quite reasonable, but they are not the sort of thing Sherlockians (or their young protégés) often encounter. (The book is published by the mainstream firm of Thomas Nelson, but might well find its way onto the racks of Christian bookstores, a major channel for sales of print books these days.)
The plot is wildly unrealistic, bordering on science fiction if not fantasy as it relies on electronic machinery not imaginable in 1903, vast caverns and extensive tunnels under the Thames, and superhuman ingenuity on the part of the villain. Such wild imagination is not absolutely necessary in books for young readers (Shane Peacock, for one has managed to avoid it). It may suggest that the author, who according to a web site is "a director, animator and storyboard artist", expects his audience will be hard to wean away from Saturday morning television. Of course, he may also have assumed that more discriminating readers will find a robot butler hilariously funny.
It is easy to start listing the probable (and quite legitimate) Sherlockian sources for elements of the narrative: the Loch Ness Monster from the classic film "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes", the dastardly plot against Queen and Empire from the musical "Baker Street" (1965) and a hundred or so pastiches since then, the underground empire from John Gardner's version of Moriarty, and so on. Come to think of it, the down-at-heel would-be detective at Baker Street is rather suggestive of Michael Caine's Sherlock Holmes in "Without a Clue".
The language is clear and readable throughout, and errors are minor, apart from the sort of thing one might expect of a North American, not deeply saturated in Holmes, trying to write about London. Lethcoe uses Americanisms like "train station", for example, cannot spell "Charing Cross", thinks the Queen is "Her Royal Highness", and apparently does not know the difference between a telegram and a letter. Most young readers probably will not care, but a Sherlockian reader will find Lethcoe's London something of a caricature. A little more detailed research might have been helpful, — and might have revealed that when young Griffin Sharpe sought a Methodist place of worship, he could have found the Hinde Street Church just half a mile away from 221B, where it has been serving the community since 1810.
Copyright © Chris Redmond 2013