Title: The Dark Lady (Sherlock, Lupin & Me #1)
Author: Irene Adler
Published: February 1st, 2014 (originally published in Italy in 2011)
Sherlock, Lupin & Me is a series of children books about the adventures of three young detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Arsène Lupin, and Irene Adler. It was originally published in Italian by Piemme and there’s five books out so far. It’s a solid series, if a bit formulaic like many other series aimed at children, but I like it a lot and all books are a solid 3 or 4 stars out of 5 for me. I’m glad to see the books are getting translated and picking up some buzz, so I thought I’d write down my review of the first book along with some overall thoughts. Keep in mind that I’ve read the Italian edition and so I can’t comment on the translation; the books I read were well-written, though sometimes suffering from an overabundance of commas.
The Dark Lady, starts with the trio meeting for the first time while on holiday in Saint-Malo in 1870. When a dead body washes up on the beach, the kids decide that it’s a great opportunity to snoop around and help the police solve the case, because (as always) the local constabulary is worse than useless.
That’s the plot of the first book, and more or less the same thing happens in all other books, five of them so far. It starts with the trio either running into each other or planning to meet up somewhere, then they get mixed up in a mysterious situation and snoop around, and eventually manage to solve (or at least help in solving) the current crime. The mystery itself is usually not very engaging for an adult reader, either the solution is obvious straight away or it’s something so far-fetched that there’s no way to guess right — but since the original Sherlock Holmes stories were like that, I don’t hold that against this author.
Right, about the author. Irene Adler is credited as the author, and all books are narrated in first person by her. I’ve seen some blurbs stating that Sherlock is the main character, or that the books are about Sherlock and his love interest Irene, but that’s a load of promotional bull-poop because heaven forbid we have a mystery/adventure series with a female protag, or a series with a female protag that doesn’t kill the plot in favour of romance. Blurbs also tend to forget about Lupin, even though he’s just as important as Sherlock, because he’s the most obscure character of the three. That also seems bull-poop to me because if you give the book to a ten-year-old (the publisher’s suggested reading age) odds are that they won’t be familiar with any of the characters, so just tell them that Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective and Arsène Lupin is a famous thief and you’re set.
Sherlock, Lupin and Irene. They’re good protagonists, especially Irene. Irene is stubborn and tries to be ladylike but always ends up ruining her dress when she’s hanging out with her friends, and at first she pitches a couple of tantrums but realizes that it’s not cool and that her parents are good people, so she tries to behave and is much calmer in later books. She has a couple of distressed damsel moments, when she freezes up in a panic and literally does not know what to do and has to be saved by her two friends, but aside from that she can hold her own: she investigates (that is to say snoops around) on her own, contributes hew own deductions, and most of the times she’s on the thick of the action with Sherlock and Lupin. I’m not familiar with Lupin’s character but Sherlock is closer to ACD’s character than many other adaptations. He’s quiet and brainy and very attached to his friends, while Lupin is outgoing and athletic.
The theme of friendship in the books is very strong, to the point that it makes me sad because there’s a couple of hints that suggest that in the future the three of them will go their separate ways, and I want to squish them together because no you must always hang out together and have adventures together. Alas, there is a bit of a love triangle going on that we could have done without (very very PG-rated love, a peck on the cheek and hugs if I recall correctly) but it doesn’t develop into ~drama~ and mostly they’re just friends.
Plot-wise, the earlier books generally get a higher rating for me, because as I said the formula gets repetitive after a while, though I think children wouldn’t get bored so quickly. The plots are interesting and not simplistic, and every book is set in a different location. Some historical details are not what you’d call accurate (for example the familiarity between Irene’s family and their butler) but it never really pulled me out of the story, and it is entertaining to see a children book set in this period.
As a final note, if you’re a shallow person like me you should definitely get the hardcover book. If it’s anything like my edition, the amount of detail is staggering.
So yeah. I really recommend The Dark Lady, and you can decide for yourself if the series is good enough to continue reading. As for me, there’s a subplot about Irene’s mother that has been going on for a couple of books and so I’m looking forward to the sixth book. But… spoilers!