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Tuesday, August 18, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Unless it has James Bond in the title, my husband and I rarely go to a movie. But when I learned of the recently released Mr. Holmes starring wonderful actor Ian McKellen, I put it on my must-see list immediately. Not long afterward, I discovered this book, which is the basis for the movie - and in my rarely broken rule of book before movie, I got my hands on a copy. Now that I've finished with it, I'm doubly determined to see the movie and Mr. McKellen's performance - what a plum role this must be! 

Though relatively short at 272 pages, this isn't a book to be read quickly; there are simply too many details that would be missed by skimming. It begins in 1947 as Sherlock Holmes, now 93, is living at a farmhouse in Sussex, England, keeping bees and and claiming to "no longer crave" the bustle of London or Baker Street. He hasn't been in contact with his partner, Dr. John Watson, for a few years, and (as he does with most people), he keeps an emotional distance from his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney in the movie). His does, however, take pleasure - more than he likes to admit - in teaching her son, Roger, to work with the bees.

In his journal writings, Holmes takes pains to dispel what he believes to be myths about himself (largely conceived, he says, in Watson's writings of their adventures). Never, he insists, did he really wear a deerstalker, nor did he ever smoke a big pipe or call his partner by anything except his first name ("...he was John, simply John").

Holmes recalls various cases and events from other times, trying hard to recall the details and pertinent facts (his greatest fear, he says, is the forgetfulness that has accompanied the aging process). The chapters skip around in time a bit, and it's a little hard to discern whether Holmes's musings are fact or fiction, real or dream - intentional, I'm guessing, so readers can share the character's uncertainty. In fact, almost from the beginning, I felt dogged by a feeling of sadness as Holmes struggles with the realization that his once-brilliant mind has lost some of its luster.

Excellent book, with or without the movie.

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (Anchor reprint, May 2006); 272 pp.

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