Tuesday, September 13, 2016

TNB--Children in Crime: The Baker Street Irregulars

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have returned from our August summer holiday and the topic for September is, appropriately enough, Children in Crime. As the little darlings go back to school, we are turning our thoughts to child detectives and even perhaps the evil that lurks behind the innocent faces of childish criminals. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the youngsters in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age youngsters, but all are welcome--then please stop in every Tuesday as we gather at Kate's place over at crossexamingcrime. Pull up a chair and have a scone or two...
What mystery lover, especially those of us who came to the genre young, hasn't imagined herself as the heroine of their very own detective adventure? From the time my mom introduced me to Nancy Drew (second grade), I spent my time--when not reading--concocting mysteries of my own. Whether I was roping my friends into playing Nancy Drew with me on the playground or scribbling my stories about my very own version of the Bob-Whites from Trixie Belden, I wanted to be solving mysteries. I wish I still had my little pocket-size notebooks where I wrote such thrillers as "The Mystery of the the Diamond Bracelet" (the only story title I remember). If I had discovered Sherlock Holmes a little earlier, I might have imagined myself as one of his youthful helpers, the Baker Street Irregulars.
"It is the unofficial force—the Baker Street irregulars."
     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)
The Irregulars first appear in The Study in Scarlet--helping Holmes track down a particular cab which is of interest in the case and we get our first glimpse of a street urchin named Wiggins. The Irregulars also play a crucial role in The Sign of Four, once again helping Holmes trace a particular steam launch which he believes to be involved. As Holmes notes, these street children can go everywhere and see everything...and no one really notices them. They make the ideal assistants for the consulting detective. When reading the rest of the Holmes stories, I often wished that there had been more of the Irregulars--giving them a brief moment in the spotlight in any of the stories that focused more on London. 

One reason I have the Irregulars on my mind is that I recently read a children's mystery called The Case of the Baker Street Irregular (1978) by Robert Newman.
It is the first in a series of books featuring Andrew Craigie (later Tillet...as explained by the events in this novel), the Baker Street Irregulars, and, in various amounts, Sherlock Holmes himself. Andrew Craigie's life has been a mysterious one. He has grown up under the care of his Aunt Agnes. He had always been told that his father was dead and his mother was far away--and even though she couldn't be with him that she loved him very much. But when Aunt Agnes dies and Andrew is taken in by his tutor, Mr. Dennison, Andrew begins to dwell on the questions that have haunted him: Who was his father and is he really dead? Where is his mother? If she really does love him, why didn't she come for him when Aunt Agnes died? And if she couldn't why didn't she at least write?  

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.

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

Great choice for children in crime, and sounds like a good idea for a book - it's surprising no-one has done it before.