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Against the Brotherhood: A Mycroft Holmes Novel (Mycroft Holmes #1) Hardcover – September 15, 1997
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Kirkus Reviews
Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother Mycroft was reputed to be so indolent that only cases of national security could rouse him to a real effort. So it makes sense that Fawcett's new series of pastiches, authorized by Dame Jean Conan Doyle, would begin by pitting him against the Brotherhood, a shadowy organization of fin-de-sicle terrorists bent--a frightened anonymous letter and some coded German messages suggest--on intercepting and assassinating Cameron MacMillian, trusted courier for a treaty on whose success the European peace hinges. Mired at home in Admiralty intrigue, Holmes sends Paterson Erskine Guthrie, his secretary and amanuensis, into the enemy's lair, grooming him to pose as a luckless heir who can be bent to the Brotherhood's vilest purposes. The ruse is successful in getting the Brotherhood to take Guthrie on--insinuating him as MacMillian's secretary so that he can deliver the treaty to them--but it does keep Holmes, the alleged star, offstage for an intolerable stretch. And by the time he does make his reappearance (to be joined eventually by another ally whose incognito will fool only readers as new to this sort of thing as Guthrie) in MacMillian's bedeviled train trip across Europe, the conspiratorial intrigue has settled for keeps into a potboiling groove. Colorless, endlessly surprised Guthrie, though no Watson, is Fawcett's most successful creation. The desperate villains are MGM stock, and Mycroft gives no evidence of either the presence or the brains that would justify the new life the series promises. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
"[A] promising series opener. The Brotherhood's ruthlessness is both shocking and convincing; the period details of travel, lodging, and communications are richly conveyed. Absorbing." --Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
Fortunately for us, author Quinn Fawcett, with endorsement by none other than Dame Jean Conan Doyle herself, has fashioned a new crime series which pulls Mycroft from the shadows and into his rightful place in detective fiction. "Against The Brotherhood", the first novel in Fawcett's series, also introduces the reader to Mycroft's capable secretary Paterson Guthrie, his worthy houseman Philip Tyers and a stimulating new cast of characters and villains that is worthy both of the Conan Doyle family endorsement and the regard and enjoyment of the millions of faithful Sherlock devotees.
In "Against The Brotherhood", Mycroft and Guthrie find themselves pitted against a mysterious, blood-thirsty organization of ruthless men, set on destroying the world's great governments through various underhanded, clandestine and (quite often) murderous and bloody methods. The novel contains many hair-raising moments, as Mycroft sends Guthrie undercover to penetrate the mysterious "Brotherhood" and, in so doing, puts his secretary's life at stake for, if Guthrie's real identity is discovered by the very group he is trying to infiltrate, they will stop at nothing to silence him - forever, and in VERY nasty ways.
In fashioning Mycroft Holmes (who has sometimes been called "Sherlock's smarter brother"), Fawcett gives us not so much a smarter sibling (for to be sure, brains run in that family in spades) but a "kinder, gentler" sibling. He is brilliant without his brother's arrogance, and more human. There is far less of Sherlock's chilly remoteness, and one senses that Mycroft is psychologically better-adjusted than his brother, who has many inner demons driving him. The two, when compared together, make a stimulating contrast.
Likewise, Guthrie is no Watson, although he, like Watson, faithfully records the exploits of his employer. Each of Guthrie's chapters is capped by an entry from Tyers's private diary, which provides extra information about the main plot while spinning a side plot concerning the approaching death of Tyers's elderly mother. Guthrie is a courageous character, willing to do more than what's required of him and able to stand his ground in a tight spot. And there are plenty of those in "Against The Brotherhood".
I've just started the second Mycroft Holmes novel, "Embassy Row", fast on the heels of completing this one, and I'm finding that situations, characters and references carry over from one novel to the next. Therefore, I believe it would be best to begin this series at the beginning, with "Against The Brotherhood", in order to follow the references to past exploits that will be made in future novels.
I definitely feel that Sherlock Holmes fans will appreciate the new focus on his brother, Mycroft, and Quinn Fawcett has done an excellent job in breathing life into a little-known literary creation. I highly recommend this admirable and fun-to-read series.
Mycroft appears in two of the original stories by Sir Arhtur Conan Doyle, and is mentioned in a few others. He is a genius, works for the British government and rarely varies his daily, sedentary routine.
Therein lies the rub. These books read like an espionage/spy series set in Victorian England. Mycroft is a far more active person than Doyle gave us. He crawls long distances, carries a body up a hill and travels across the continent. In the beginning of the second novel in the series, Mycroft literally turns into The Flash when a bomb is discovered. It feels like Quinn Fawcett (pen name for two authors) wanted to write a James Bond-type of series set in Victorian England and plugged Mycroft Holmes in.
Holmes isn't even the main character. Patterson Guthrie is Holmes' secretary and he narrates. Except for at the end of each chapter, when a 'journal' entry is made by Mycroft's manservant. This change interrupts the flow and is merely a cheap device to easily impart information.
If you are looking for more of Mycroft as Doyle created him, you won't find it here. And since each cover prominently notes that the series is authorized by Sir Arthur's daughter, you might reasonably expect that.
Thus, I found it to be a nice book, but misleading. Expect a good spy tale, not a Mycroft Holmes case, and you will be pleased.
In the positive category, the author does a great job of recreating the Victorian Era. The plot is also good. While not original, the idea of having secret societies controlling European politics behind the scenes is just the kind of plot gimmick to appeal to conspiracy theorists and make for an interesting story. My favorite aspect of Against the Brotherhood was the way the narrator acknowledged that killing someone, even when necessary or in self-defense, disgusts a sensitive person and damages his soul. It's rare to find a book that honestly deals with the damaging effects killing has on the psyche of the killer.
In the negative category, the book is touted as "A Mycroft Holmes Novel" on the cover, but he's really a supporting character. The main character is his secretary, Patterson Guthrie, who narrates the story while undertaking a secret mission for Holmes on the Continent to make sure an important treaty gets to England.
Mycroft only becomes a major character in the second half of the book, during which he pulls strings, advises Guthrie, and assumes disguises and fake accents. This reminded me of The Hound of the Baskervilles, in which Sherlock Holmes is absent for 40% of the story while John Watson reports on his own activities in the field, with Holmes turning up for the climax and conclusion of the book.
Brotherhood also has a subplot about the mother of Mycroft's valet being on her deathbed. This is referred to so frequently I thought sure it would turn out to have some relevance to the rest of the story, but it doesn't. Apparently it was only stuck in to show the reader what a great guy Mycroft is for allowing his servant to take lots of time off to be with his dying mother. That may have been a remarkable concession in the Victorian Era, but to a modern reader it just seems like common decency, and therefore silly to make such a big deal out of it.
The biggest problem with this book is that Mycroft is such a complete Gary Stu. Sherlock Holmes is the best-loved character in fiction because he's so *real*. Sure, he's a brilliant, witty, super-competent Renaissance man, but he's also mercurial, self-destructive, and something of a jerk, especially in the stories before "The Final Problem." And for all his posturing about being a "thinking machine," his intense emotions are frequently discernible to the reader.
Mycroft Holmes is also a brilliant, super-competent Renaissance man (although he's not particularly witty, and in this book he's not self-destructive), but he's so laid-back as to be phlegmatic. This is carried to such a ludicrous extreme that he remains utterly unflappable even during a series of life-threatening crises in the last few chapters of the book. He also is just as great an actor, and just as much a man of action, as Sherlock is at his best.
In the most ridiculous Gary Stu scene of all, Mycroft carries a severely injured man over his shoulder for what must be at least two miles. (The good guys had walked briskly for over half an hour from where they left their horses to reach the castle they attacked.) This would be an extremely difficult feat even for a young, healthy man in perfect training; for a middle-aged, morbidly obese couch potato like Mycroft, it would bring on a heart attack, stroke, or both. This reminded me of a similarly absurd scene in another Sherlockian pastiche, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, in which a teenaged Mary Russell cracks a bone in her foot rescuing a little girl. Then she climbs down a tree and runs several blocks, all while carrying the child, and despite her injured foot. Preposterous!
I guess--oops, sorry, Sherlock--I *deduce* we're supposed to believe Mycroft is just husky rather than fat, but in the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Greek Interpreter," he is described by the physician narrator as "absolutely corpulent," and having "a broad, fat hand like the flipper of a seal." That's not the description of a man who is big and muscular, but of one who is morbidly obese.
Worst of all for the book, the most interesting character by far is not one of the principals, but an assassin from a rival cabal who unites with Holmes and Guthrie to help them defeat the bad guys. I'm being deliberately vague so as not to give anything away, but I found this person far more intriguing and exciting than any of the major characters. The conclusion is set up so this person can return in future novels, but it would have been a far more interesting book if that character had been the main one in the first place. Then the tale could have been about how this person became an assassin, and the character's adventures as a member of this secret organization. In other words, Fawcett committed the novelist's cardinal sin of creating a supporting character who is more interesting than his main characters.
This is not a bad book, but it's not all that great, either. I recommend checking it out of the library or buying it cheap used. I give it two-and-a-half stars.
Most recent customer reviews
I did not read the book, I listened to the unabridged audio book on a long road trip, and in...Read more