You might have noticed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar popping up on talk shows, timelines and Twitter feeds. Well, it’s not just because he trash talked Trump (though that was awesome). It’s also because he has a new book out, a novel called Mycroft Holmes.
Now if you’re like me, you don’t know Abdul-Jabbar for much more than sports (baseketball, right?) and his iconic turn in the Bruce Lee classic Game of Death. So you might think Abdul-Jabbar co-writing a Sherlockian detective novel with Anna Waterhouse seems out of nowhere. But for years, this sky-hooking, kung fu kicking, Trump-trouncing sports star has also been co-authoring books. I certainly didn’t until news of Mycroft Holmes sent me down a Google hole.
All this made me curious about Abdul-Jabbar and Mycroft Holmes. And I’m pleased to report, this is a book that rewards curiosity.
The novel introduces us to Mycroft as a young man, spirited, smart, and cocky. As Secretary of State for War, he’s gainfully employed. As fiancé to a radiant and educated young woman, he’s besotted. As brother to an anti-social and morally ambiguous college student, he’s occasionally annoyed. But Mycroft’s problems are all decidedly first world. That is until he digs into a curious case of inexplicable killings in Trinidad.
The Watson to this Holmes is the tirelessly patient Cyrus Douglas, who is a bit older, a bit taller, and black. A native of Trinidad, Cyrus has made his home in London, carefully maneuvering racism with a combination of cunning ruses and—when necessary—exceptional fighting skills. When Cyrus hears that locals are blaming beasts from folklore for leaving exsanguinated children on their shores, he hurriedly makes plans to survey the situation himself. So too does Mycroft’s lovely bride-to-be Georgiana, who has family on the island. Desperate to keep her stay short, Mycroft ignores her pleas to stay put and tags along with Cyrus. But once aboard the ship, things turn sinister. The pair are trailed by thugs, drugged, and warned in no uncertain terms to go back the way they came. Stranger still: there’s no sign of Georgiana.
Blending Mycroft’s skeptical nature with the Trinidadian folk lore is an charming collision. But the book wouldn’t work without Cyrus. He shoulders the plot evenly with Mycroft, who is green to the depths of depravity and violence from which his privilege has long protected him. Mycroft may be smarter—gifted with a top-notch education and photographic memory—but Cyrus knows this place, has street smarts, and a way with people. And his physical endurance and capability in combat proves crucial as their adventure is as studded with action scenes, as it is intrigue, and wit. Together they make a hell of a team. Yet while they may seem superficially like a twist on Sherlock and Holmes, Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse do something more daring.
Mycroft Holmes takes a cue from Mad Max: Fury Road, not only in using a familiar character (Max/Mycroft) to set up the story of a new one (Furiosa/Cyrus), but also to use the entry point of the ever-accessible straight white male to introduce the perspective of a less represented viewpoint. Mycroft may have read about racism, slavery and its violence. But journeying with Cyrus, he’s exposed to its realities in a way so raw and real that he’s forever changed. And just as Fury Road set up a thrilling story of overthrow of a dominant class, Mycroft Holmes sets up its own tension-filled tale of revolt. Though perhaps regrettably not one that includes a flame-throwing guitar.
Kristy Puchko would also like you to know this book contains a scene where Sherlock Holmes gets a solid punch to his nose.