Sherlock, Lupin, and Me: the Dark Lady, by "Irene Adler" (Capstone, 2014, first published in Italy in 2011) is the story of three kids--Sherlock Holmes, Arsène Lupin, and Irene Adler--who become friends in a coastal French town in 1870. Sherlock and Arsène are already best friends, and when Irene arrives in town for vacation she is delighted to become a partner in their adventurous lives--she is the sort of 19th-century girl who chaffs against societal restrictions, and gives her Mama conniption fits. But when a dead body washes up on shore, Irene and the boys find themselves with a mystery to solve that leads them into the dark underworld of the not-so-peaceful town.... They must use their wits to solve the case of the dead man, and it's only when they realize why he had a single playing card in his pocket--the Queen of Spades, the titular Dark Lady of the title-- that the reason for his death becomes clear.
In one important respect, I feel well qualified this book from the point of view of the target audience. Like many 10-13 year olds, I have never read a single Sherlock Holmes story; not an original one by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, nor any Sherlockian re-imaginings. So here I was, meeting him for the first time (though I had, of course, acquired a general sense of his personality from cultural osmosis), and could take what I was given at more or less face value.
In essence, this is a fine "plucky kids solving mystery" story, that fans of that genre should enjoy just fine. The characters are engaging, challenging each other both mentally and in feats of physical daring (like rooftop jumping) during the course of their adventure. It's the sort of book that I'd happily recommend to the kind of quirky kid who might well become interested in all things Steampunk in a few years--partly because of the cover, and the lovely endpapers with their illustrations of historical ephemera and the neat full page black and white illustrations that start each chapter, and partly just because it's a fun historical adventure.
That being said, there's a certain amount of serendipity involved in the solving, and considerably less preternatural powers of deduction being exhibited than I had expected (which I found disappointing). On top of that, there's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept that these kids are poking their noses into an ongoing investigation around the town without much adult response. Those who like really zesty mysteries that allow for intense reader engagement in solving the case might be a tad disappointed. The target audience is also going to be more willing to take young Sherlock at face value as he is presented here-- a relatively normal kid, showing few signs of the brilliant detective he is going to become--and will also more readily accept young Irene as a person, rather than something of a stock character (plucky girl anachronistically defining parents and joining boys in adventure).
Throughout the book there are hints of what the future will bring, that I think are more nudges to grown-up readers than information that adds value for the young reader. I myself had never heard of Arsène Lupin, and so was disconcerted to be told point blank that he was going to grow up to become a thief--it kicked me out of the story at hand. I had never heard of Irene Adler, presented as the author--she is an actual character in some Sherlockian adventures to come, and based on what I've just read, her relationship with young Sherlock might contradict what is "supposed" to happen in the original stories. But I'm willing to grant that it's a neat premise.
My own maddeningly picky reader 13-year old who's interested in Steampunk and the 19th century is showing encouraging signs of interest--I shall continue to leave the book lying around the house in various positions of noticability in hopes that he might actually read it, because I think he would enjoy it!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher