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A Slight Trick of the Mind Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 19, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 155 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allowed him to retire to Sussex to take up beekeeping, there seems to be no end of enthusiasm for imagined versions of the life of Sherlock Holmes. There was Michael Chabon's The Final Solution in which "the old man," an 89-year-old beekeeper in Sussex is undoubtedly Holmes. Laurie King, a fine mystery writer, has appropriated Holmes and created a romance between him and young Mary Russell which has lasted through several enjoyable books. And now, nonagenarian Holmes reappears, most appealingly, in Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind. He is frail and forgetful but still observant and capable of shining the bright light of his insight and brilliance on events both past and present.

Cullin has carefully woven three stories together and managed it so neatly that no threads show--worthy of Holmes himself. The first is the story of Holmes's recent return from a trip to Japan, ostensibly in search of prickly ash, a bush that he believes contributes to healthy longevity, as does his beloved and trusted royal jelly. While there, he is met by his correspondent, Mr. Umezaki, who isn't as interested in prickly ash as in gleaning information from Holmes about his long-gone father. Supposedly, they met many years before, in London, and Holmes advised him not to return home. Of course, Holmes has no recollection of the meeting but finesses it nicely.

It is 1947 when they visit Hiroshima, post-atomic bomb, and Holmes marvels at what he sees. He compares it, most poignantly, to the loss of the queen in a hive, "when no resources were available to raise a new one. Yet how could he explain the deeper illness of unexpressed desolation, that imprecise pall harbored en masse by ordinary Japanese?" That is what he tells Roger, the 14-year-old son of his housekeeper. Roger is the second thread of the novel. Holmes is introducing him to beekeeping and Roger proves an apt student. His hero-worship of Holmes and his need for a father form an integral part of Cullin's intention of "humanizing" the great Sherlock Holmes.

The final thread is revealed in a journal that Holmes kept, in which he entered an encounter with a married woman, many years ago. He is infatuated with her, and hardly knows what to call it or what to make of his feelings. This is unfamiliar territory for the man who is rational above all else. The man we know at the end of the book makes the reader want another installment, showing a new Sherlock with a heart as well as a brain. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The Sherlock Holmes pastiche is a time-honored tradition, though most attempts are interesting primarily to Sherlockians who pick them apart, searching for mistakes. But Cullin (Branches; Tideland; etc.) has produced an ambitious, beautifully written novel that examines an enfeebled but still intellectually curious Holmes as he copes with the indignities of old age. It's just after the end of WWII: Holmes's brilliant brother Mycroft is dead, as is Watson ("You know, I never did call him Watson—he was John, simply John"). Now 93, the great detective has been retired for decades; he spends his days immersed in his lifelong passion, beekeeping, and in writing various articles and letters. One of his projects is an account of a case concerning a mysterious young woman who played the glass armonica. Holmes will complete the manuscript by the book's end, and the fascinating result will explain something of his peculiar character. Cullin gives Holmes a companion in his housekeeper's young son, Roger; their close relationship is a great solace to the prickly and famously solitary old man. It is this elucidation of Holmes's "true" character that is the purpose of Cullin's story. This look at Holmes near his natural death is a delight and a deeply satisfying read—more so than Michael Chabon's recent The Final Solution, which also features a nonagenarian Holmes. (Apr. 26)Forecast: Cullin's work is hard to pigeonhole—Texas noir (Tideland; Branches), coming-of-age novel (Whompyjawed), academic satire (The Cosmology of Bing)—but his talent is undeniable. This sophisticated spin on Doyle's perennially popular detective could take him up a notch recognition-wise.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (April 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a joy it has been of late for us Sherlockians. Not only has there been a batch of new scholarly Holmes-related books to digest and debate--among them THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES--but we've also been blessed with three very interesting and top-notch pastiches. What makes this trio of recent novels so unique is that they come from unlikely writers, individuals who fall more into the literary category than the mystery genre. I am, of course, referring to the three-headed prong that is Caleb Carr (THE ITALIAN SECRETARY), Michael Chabon (THE FINAL SOLUTION), and Mitch Cullin (A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND).

As I decided to read all three books back to back, I shall comment on them in the order in which they were read. For better or worse, I started with the one that I believed would be the most satisfying of the trio: Caleb Carr's THE ITALIAN SECRETARY. However, while I found Carr's book engaging and fun for the most part, I was somewhat disappointed with it. In hindsight, my feelings might have more to do with my high regard for Carr's previous novels--such as THE ALIENIST--than it does with the actual quality of his Sherlock novel. In other words, had THE ITALIAN SECRETARY been written by someone else, I might not have found myself feeling it lacked the strength and depth of story that I've come to expect from, yes, a Caleb Carr novel. So putting those thoughts aside, I will say that Carr's book is mostly well written and he has done a good job at capturing the spirit, intrigue, and style of Doyle. However, it fell a little flat toward the end, giving me the sense of a rushed job.
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Format: Hardcover
Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind has a lot in common with Michael Chabon's The Final Solution. Both have at their center an elderly, somewhat frail Sherlock Holmes. Both present Holmes in isolation, outside of the familiar haunts and relationships we recall so fondly from Doyle's work. Both have him living into a time period that calls into question his reliance on logic and intellect. Most importantly, each, in its own way, offers up one of the best literary pleasures a reader is likely to experience this year.
Cullin places Holmes in his 93rd year, retired to Sussex with his bees and his housekeeper and her adolescent son. While Holmes has grown somewhat frail physically (he needs two canes, lots of rest), more distressing to him is the obvious loss of his mental faculties. He finds himself entering rooms for unknown reasons, forgetting near-events and losing himself in long-past ones, falling asleep suddenly in the midst of something. Even more confusing, he finds that his renowned logic and aloofness seems to be more and more capitulating to the long-buried emotional part of himself, particularly in three-fold fashion: in his reaction to the father-worship of the housekeeper's adolescent son, in his memory of a decades-old infatuation with a woman from one of his old cases, and in his response to a Japanese man who seeks answers to why his father long ago abandoned his family at the seeming urging of a younger Holmes.
The story unfolds in slow fashion, slipping quietly, sadly, smoothly between the three storylines. With Holmes, we sorrow in present time over his slipping acuity, mourn the passing of that legendary intellect, wince at how easily he forgets, loses himself in time and place and deed.
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Format: Hardcover
In this fascinating portrait, Sherlock Holmes, now ninety-three, deals with the indignities of old age and the forgetfulness which accompanies it. It is now 1947, and Dr. Watson has been dead for many years. Holmes lives in a small country house in rural Sussex with a housekeeper and her 14-year-old son, spending much of his day tending to his bees and working on his writing. Frail and reliant upon two canes to get around, Holmes is dedicated to the pursuit of longevity and believes that the royal jelly from his hives is a key ingredient.

Holmes has just returned from postwar Japan, where he has been seeking information about the prickly ash plant and its life-giving properties. His host there, the son of a diplomat who disappeared when World War II broke out, tells Holmes that his father once met him in England, but Holmes no longer remembers the man. As he reminisces about the trip, he wants to help the man come to terms with his father's mysterious abandonment.

These two settings, one in rural Sussex and one in Japan, in 1947, alternate with "The Case of the Glass Armonicist," an uncompleted story about one of Holmes's cases from 1902, which Holmes hopes to finish before he forgets the details. The story concerns a young man whose wife keeps disappearing following her lessons on the glass armonica (sometimes called the "glass harmonica"). Holmes follows the woman, often donning a disguise to get closer to her. In formal Victorian language, Holmes tells a story reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in style.

Cullin has created a plausible psychological profile for Holmes, who, to the best of anyone's knowledge, has never been in love and has never allowed his emotions to govern his life.
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