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A Slight Trick of the Mindby Mitch Cullin
Synopses & Reviews
Mitch Cullin's engrossing A Slight Trick of the Mind is an original portrait of literature's most beloved detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the twilight of his illustrious life.
Holmes — "a genius in whom scientific curiosity is raised to the status of heroic passion" — is famous for his powers of deduction. His world is made up of hard evidence and uncontestable facts, his observations and conclusions unsullied by personal feelings, until novelist Cullin goes behind the cold, unsentimental surface to reveal for the first time the inner world of an obsessively private man.
It is 1947, and the long-retired Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse, where his memories and intellect begin to go adrift. He lives with a housekeeper and her young son, Roger, whose patient, respectful demeanor stirs paternal affection in Holmes. Holmes has settled into the routine of tending his apiary, writing in journals, and grappling with the diminishing powers of his razor-sharp mind, when Roger comes upon a case hitherto unknown. It is that of a Mrs. Keller, the long-ago object of Holmes's deep — and never acknowledged — infatuation.
As Mitch Cullin weaves together Holmes's hidden past, his poignant struggle to retain mental acuity, and his unlikely relationship with Roger, Holmes is transformed from the machine-like, mythic figure into an ordinary man, confronting and acquiescing to emotions he has resisted his entire life. This subtle and wise work is more than just a reimagining of a classic character. It is a profound meditation on faultiness of memory and how, as we grow older, the way we see the world is inevitably altered.
"The Sherlock Holmes pastiche is a time-honored tradition, though most attempts are interesting primarily to Sherlockians who pick them apart, searching for mistakes. But Cullin (Branches; Tideland; etc.) has produced an ambitious, beautifully written novel that examines an enfeebled but still intellectually curious Holmes as he copes with the indignities of old age. It's just after the end of WWII: Holmes's brilliant brother Mycroft is dead, as is Watson ('You know, I never did call him Watson — he was John, simply John'). Now 93, the great detective has been retired for decades; he spends his days immersed in his lifelong passion, beekeeping, and in writing various articles and letters. One of his projects is an account of a case concerning a mysterious young woman who played the glass armonica. Holmes will complete the manuscript by the book's end, and the fascinating result will explain something of his peculiar character. Cullin gives Holmes a companion in his housekeeper's young son, Roger; their close relationship is a great solace to the prickly and famously solitary old man. It is this elucidation of Holmes's 'true' character that is the purpose of Cullin's story. This look at Holmes near his natural death is a delight and a deeply satisfying read — more so than Michael Chabon's recent The Final Solution, which also features a nonagenarian Holmes. Forecast: Cullin's work is hard to pigeonhole — Texas noir (Tideland; Branches), coming-of-age novel (Whompyjawed), academic satire (The Cosmology of Bing) — but his talent is undeniable. This sophisticated spin on Doyle's perennially popular detective could take him up a notch recognition-wise. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[O]ne of the best of all the Holmes pastiches. A talented writer's bold step forward. Let's hope Cullin isn't finished with Sherlock Holmes." Kirkus Reviews
"Mitch Cullin has written a loving, sad tale of Sherlock Holmes in the era of Hiroshima, a Holmes who is not entirely sure of his powers, but who has come into his own humanity. When I was a child I believed that Holmes was a real person. After reading A Slight Trick of the Mind, I know he is." Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
"As he explores the mysteries of fatherless boys and childless men, Mitch Cullin transports his reader effortlessly from post-war Japan to Edwardian London. A Slight Trick of the Mind is both intricate and absorbing, a novel of unusual range and depth." Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona: A Novel
"What a pleasure it was to re-enter Sherlock Holmes's world, and find the aged detective as intelligent and observant as I'd remembered. In Mitch Cullin's imagination, however, Holmes is more pensive and wistful — more human — than ever before. A Slight Trick of the Mind is an elegant meditation on memory and mortality, brilliantly conceived and beautifully written, full of subtlety and wisdom and grace." Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction
"Cullin skillfully blends three distinct story lines and time periods while offering a fresh perspective on the Holmes legend." Library Journal
"As the conclusion of this beautiful novel makes plain, lives aren't like cases or, for that matter, like narratives. They are never solved or resolved: they just one day come to an end." New York Times
"This is a lovely, tenderhearted book, full of reserve, good manners, elegance of feeling. It's what a novel should be." Washington Post
"Cullin's knowledge of Holmes' biographical details is impressive....In short, while the book wears the garb of another Holmes adventure, Cullin's tale is a wise and touching examination of the human condition." Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Mitch Cullin is the author of six books, including Tideland and Branches, a novel-in-verse. He lives in California's San Gabriel Valley, where in addition to writing fiction, he collaborates on various projects with the artist Peter I. Chang.
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