Just Finished Reading: Mr Holmes by Mitch Cullin (FP: 2005)
Sussex, England 1947. An aging and long retired Sherlock Holmes (played superbly by Sir Ian McKellen in the 2015 movie adaptation) returns to his favourite farmhouse residence and his consuming passion – his thriving apiary containing a fine collection of hives, busy bees and a steady production of fine honey. But Holmes is more than aware that his memory, often the vital component in his famous investigations, is increasingly failing him. He finds seemingly unconnected items in his pockets, others vanish from sight only to reappear minutes, hours or days later and, rather more worryingly he is starting to forget people’s names. Yet his memories of years gone by seem as strong as ever sometimes washing over him is astonishing detail. One case in particular continues to haunt him. Called in to explain the behaviour of Mrs Ann Keller in 1902 he is immediately struck both by her beauty and her tragic ethereal quality. Even after the passage of 45 years Holmes still ruminates on the reason why she had such a profound effect on him after such a brief acquaintance. More recently Holmes is troubled by his behaviour in Japan when, whilst searching for life extending herbs and discussing the properties of Royal Jelly with a fellow bee keeper, he is asked about his companions father who disappeared in London decades before after (apparently) meeting the famous detective. Having no memory of the encounter – either through memory loss or the fact that they never actually met – Holmes find himself torn between revealing the truth of the matter or manufacturing a face-saving lie which goes against all of his finely honed principles. Then there is Roger, the young boy, son of his new housekeeper, eager to hear stories of crimes solved and the mysterious ways of the beehive.
Both a rather odd film – definitely not your run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes story – and an equally strange book this turned out to be both a delight to watch (I saw it at the cinema when it came out) and to read. To use the much abused and overused appellation this was simply beautiful in the use of prose and you could have no problem understanding the frustration and the heart-breaking reality of a once towering intellect now unable to remember if he had in fact eaten dinner or where he had left his pipe. Inevitably whenever I visualised Holmes I ‘saw’ Ian McKellen in my mind as he was such a powerful presence on the screen portraying a once great detective in terminal decline. But that is not to say that this is simply a tragic novel of decay and ultimate death. There is much to wonder at and much that is original and surprising. I found it an easy read and kept turning the 253 pages until the very satisfying ending with something of a sigh and a thought that I should dig out more of Mr Cullin’s works if this was anything to go by. Recommended – and not just for Holmes fans.