The Vanishing Girl: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, his 3rd Case (2009), by Shane Peacock

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 15.2.

Peacock - VanishingI have read positive reviews of the 2nd “case” in Shane Peacock’s series, but I cannot fully commend the 3rd. While the minutæ of such detail as the railway timetables and routes is impressive, the characterization of the young Sherlock Holmes, as well as one or two historical details, render me less enamoured of the final result. Perhaps there is sufficient textual support in Conan Doyles’s stories for the social ineptitude of Peacock’s protagonist, but his indecision and logical bumbling seem too far removed from the obsessively logical character of “The Hounds of the Baskervilles.” As a teen, Sherlock Holmes would have already established those deeply seated characteristics that made him the man he became, not be stumbling in the dark, trying to learn to curb his “guessing” and his “impetuous” character (34).

The historical error that sticks out most prominently in this case is that the “vanishing girl,” Victoria Rathbone, has “just returned from school in India” (149). The tradition was very much that British citizens living in India sent their children home to be educated; the only schools in India for British children were substandard, and intended for those residents too poor to send their children back to England. One other troubling detail is the line “not much more than a hundred-weight, perhaps nine and half stone” (17), when 9½ stone is actually 133 pounds. While the demand for such critical attention to detail may seem excessive, young readers who glimpse these errors may lose faith in the author’s integrity. And so much of Peacock’s research is good. There are casual allusions to a number of fascinating historical tidbits, such as Spring-Heeled Jack, a sort of milder “Jack the Ripper” urban-myth character first appearing in 1837. Young readers who believe all that they read of the historical setting of the text will learn much, but will be unable to determine what is historical and what created by the author’s imagination—or mistakes. It is a valiant effort, but the historicity of such texts is essential; Peacock does not fail often, but sufficiently to instill doubt in the educated reader and misinformation in the learning reader.

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