“I must impress upon all of you the need for confidentiality with respect to The Stuart Chronicle. You are not to utter a word of what you know. The matter is of the utmost secrecy—and your knowledge of it could put you in danger. It is for this reason that I did not involve Watson more in this case. I feared he would write about it,” says Sherlock Holmes, to his band of assistants.
No Watson in a Holmes mystery? Holmes-buffs Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin, authors of Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas, make it very clear in their book that everyone familiar with Holmes knows that he did not work alone. He was helped by an enthusiastic and loyal gang of homeless boys called the Baker Street Irregulars. Yet, say the authors, the Irregulars are mentioned in less than a handful—only four times in 60 cases—of Watson’s stories. This book is a tribute to the Irregulars.
The book starts off with two seemingly unconnected events. Three tightrope-walkers, the Amazing Zalindas, fall to their death while performing in Barboza’s Circus. In the second, Holmes is called in by the Royal Family to solve a problem. The detective calls in the services of his “eyes and ears on the street” to find out more about what went wrong in the circus. A frayed rope, the only clue, points to foul play.
Wiggins, the aspiring boxer, Ozzie, the forger’s apprentice, Rohan, Stitch, and the rest of the boys team up to help Holmes in trapping the murderer. The star of this story is Ozzie. His deductive reasoning stuns even the Master. As the boys infiltrate the circus, they are helped by the gypsy girl, Pillar. And it turns out that there were actually four Zalindas.Where is the fourth?
As the boys and Holmes sift through the clues, they discover how and why the crime was committed. The suspects are many—Karol, the clown, who hated the Zalindas, the evasive Barboza and the Flying Joneses. The last-named are prime suspects since they get to do the tightrope act because the Zalindas are not around. Holmes also discovers that the circus murders are linked to the robbery of The Stuart Chronicle (a book that hides a valuable treasure) from the royal palace.
A self-confessed Holmes fan, Citrin “hardly ever picked up a book till he was 11, and certainly not willingly”. All that changed when his father gifted him Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Complete Sherlock Holmes, when he was in sixth grade. Holmes stayed with him for life. An avid collector of ‘Sherlockiana’, Citrin even recreated Holmes’ famous sitting room at 221 B, Baker Street, in the basement of his house.
As the story goes, his friends stuck the number 221 B on his dorm door.
Mack and Citrin bring Holmes’ England alive in this stirring adventure. For those unfamiliar with the language of those times, the authors have given a slang glossary at the end explaining what ‘Cockney’ is and the concept of carriages and coaches in Victorian England. An essay on the art of disguise and the science of deduction is an added attraction.
Back to the story. Holmes and the boys corner the criminals. One of them is Orlando Vile, the fourth most dangerous man in London, and the other, Professor Moriarty, who, as usual, gives them the slip, taking the Chronicles with him. An unfazed Holmes vows to track him down. Ozzie, in the meantime, is given the task of duplicating the Chronicles and is imprisoned by Moriarty’s goons. Can he save himself—and the book?
With Watson not around, the boys take centre stage and revel in it. As the youngest member of the team, Alfie, says plaintively: “That git Watson hasn’t solved a single case.” Agrees Rohan, “It’s a mystery why Master keeps him for a partner.”
The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org