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A Slight Trick of the Mind    by Mitch Cullin order for
Slight Trick of the Mind
by Mitch Cullin
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation of investigator Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson has captivated audiences for generations. Now, Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind, captures the beloved Holmes at age 93, in the year 1947, living in his retirement farmhouse on Sussex Downs. Key to his country life is his apiary, which has involved forty-four years of beekeeping and 7,816 stings! Holmes' true interest is not in the by-product of honey, but rather 'bee culture and the benefits of royal jelly'.

Cullin writes of the fallibility of Holmes' memory that 'He believed he was capable of incorrectly revising past events, especially if the reality of those events were beyond his grasp'. When Holmes is approached by others, the following exchange is typical: 'Is that true? Are you really him? ... I am afraid I still hold that distinction ... You are Sherlock Holmes? No, I don't believe it ... That is quite all right. I scarcely believe it myself.'

Cullin's brilliant offering consists of stories within a story. Mrs. Munro is employed as Holmes' housekeeper, along with her son Roger. Holmes has never been particularly fond of children, but over time he comes to realize that Roger is well-behaved and intelligent. Roger is tutored in the ways of the apiary, the care involved in tending the worker bees and the honeycombs. He soon becomes proficient. With delicacy, tenderness, and beauty, Cullin progresses the story of Henry and Mrs. Munro into events that are heartwarming and heartbreaking.

The reader learns of an interwoven account through Roger's findings in the off-limits attic study. He happens upon a rolled-up, unfinished manuscript, revealing the beginning of a case entitled 'The Glass Armonicist', an investigation of Mrs. Ann Keller of Fortis Grove. In this account, Thomas Keller visits Holmes to inquire about a curious situation concerning his wife Ann. After two miscarriages, she becomes increasingly melancholy. To assuage Ann's grief, Thomas engages Madame Schirmer to teach her to play the armonica.

Overhearing Ann talking to someone while in the attic performing her music, Thomas finds her conversing with their deceased babies. He prohibits further music lessons, concerned that something sinister is going on. To Thomas's consternation, Ann starts to disappear two days a week, and Holmes is retained to investigate why, and where she goes. He notes Mrs. Keller entering a shop, but when he goes in, she's nowhere to be found. The back and forth developments lead Holmes and the Kellers into intense circumstances with profound consequences.

In another story, Holmes is invited by Mr. Tamaki Umezaki to Japan, where Tamaki's mother appears despondent. Holmes suspects an ulterior motive to the invitation. He and Tamaki travel to Kobe and Hiroshima. During their journey, Tamaki reveals his abandonment by his father, Matsuda Umezaki, who was Japan's foreign minister and traveled to various countries. Tamaki tells Holmes, 'It appears you had some dealings with my father while he was in England.' Holmes responds, 'And when would these dealings have occurred? For I assure you I possess no memory of them.' The author continues this story with intrigue and finesse.

In all these interconnected tales, Cullin does justice to Doyle's work of genius, with the added impact of presenting Sherlock Holmes in his twilight years. A Slight Trick of the Mind is an exceptional read from an exceptional talent.

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