As he spoke, there came a swift pattering of naked feet upon the stairs, a clatter of high voices, and in rushed a dozen dirty and ragged little street Arabs. There was some show of discipline among them, despite their tumultuous entry, for they instantly drew up in line and stood facing us with expectant faces. One of their number, taller and older than the others, stood forward with an air of lounging superiority which was very funny in such a disreputable little scarecrow. (The Sign of Four)
Before Andrew can spend much time thinking about this, his new guardian takes him London "on business." Mr. Dennison is aloof--promising visits to the zoo, Madame Toussauds, and other places of note--but taking off directly after meals. Andrew is given leave to explore on his own and makes friends with Sara "Screamer" Wiggins (sister to Sam Wiggins who is one of Mr. Sherlock Holmes's famous Baker Street Irregulars). When Andrew returns from one of their outings one evening, he observes Mr. Dennison walking towards their lodgings ahead of him. Just before the man can enter the lodging house, he is accosted by a man in a growler and the cab's driver. It seems to Andrew that Dennison is reluctant to get into the cab and as it passes him he notices that the cabby, a heavset man with a broken nose, is grinning. Mrs. Gurney, owner of the lodging house, convinces him to wait to report anything. After all, gentlemen who come up to London sometimes meet up with unexpected people and perhaps Mr. Dennison wasn't so much reluctant as surprised to see the men. But by the next afternoon Dennison still hasn't returned, a visit to the local police station is unsuccessful, and Andrew is chased, robbed, and left injured. Fortunately, the Wiggins siblings find him and take him in.
Meanwhile, Mr. Holmes is investigating some mysterious incidents involving the death of Lord Lowther and the theft of certain paintings left in his legacy to his son Adam as well as a rash of bombings in the city. It isn't long before Andrew's hunt for his missing guardian and the Great Detective's search for the paintings lead to the same place. Andrew, with the help of Screamer, will brave some of the worst sections in London before finding Mr. Denison....and, incidentally, the answers to some of his earlier questions. Andrew may wind up with a parent after all.
This is a very promising debut in what looks to be an interesting children's/young adult mystery series. As much as I enjoy Holmes stories, it was refreshing to see this told primarily from the viewpoint of Andrew and the Irregulars. I've often thought books based on the Irregulars' adventures with Holmes (told from their viewpoint) would make for good stories. Andrew is given an interesting background and, while there is some coincidence at play here, I thought things worked out for him in a fairly plausible way. It is also intriguing that this children's mystery has a fairly adult plot--this is no "secret of the missing jewels." There is major danger and the kids just barely prevent a man from being shot before their eyes. Lots of adventure and intrigue and much to like in this first book of the series.