The Amazing Airship Adventure by Derrick Belanger

Review by Swithin, age 6: “The book was good. I liked every part of it.”

Review by Chris Redmond

Here we have the latest entry in the long list of Sherlockian books aimed at youngsters: a 10-chapter story that calls itself the first in a projected series of “The MacDougall Twins Mysteries with Sherlock Holmes.” I can testify that it held the attention of a six-year-old as it was read to him in multiple sessions on the sofa over a couple of days. As the cover explains matters, “Derrick Belanger wrote the words... Brian Belanger drew the pictures.”

The MacDougall twins are Jimmy and Emma, age 10. They are the sort of ten-year-olds, often found in children's books, who can do much more complicated things than the ten-year-olds one tends to know personally. As the narrative begins, they already have a working relationship with Sherlock Holmes, although it's not until the last page that they are officially designated the Baker Street Youth Detectives. They come with a somewhat supportive father, a generally disapproving mother, and a gang of youthful friends (including an 18-year-old cab driver) who perform the role of Baker Street irregulars, going everywhere and overhearing everyone. This would seem a promising, if not wildly original, structure for a series of adventures.

The plot is unnecessarily melodramatic, involving a giant airship that menaces London, a self-described “mad bomber,” and a half-hearted demand for a million-pound ransom. It could be the novelization of a 20-minute cartoon episode. The author presumably has been reading the less original kind of (adult) Sherlockian pastiche, which calls for the intervention of Mycroft Holmes on behalf of the British government, with the obligatory mention of the Queen. Perhaps this sort of thing is necessary to catch kids' attention nowadays, but it does make one nostalgic for the more emotionally engaging plots of a previous era, such as the kidnapping on which the original Basil of Baker Street is centered. The story does try to introduce a few interesting details of Victorian life, some of them more successfully than others.

It's a slim book, with large type for the convenience of children (older than 6) who will be able to read it on their own. Its weakness is the frequently awkward and plodding diction. Nobody would utter many of the sentences that children and adults utter here. Modifying phrases fall in odd places. And the author has a fondness for the verb "stated," but repeatedly uses it with utterances that are not statements. Additionally, in a few places, the text has been sabotaged by (I'm guessing) Microsoft Word, which has done such things as introduce a capital letter after an exclamation mark even though a new sentence is not starting. The author is not really to blame: such annoyances are the price we all pay for the current generation of quickly-produced books, in which whoever typed the original text is the final editor and typesetter and little or no professional attention is provided.