1. Books

Sherlock Holmes goes to prep school in Ridley Pearson's 'Lock and Key: The Downward Spiral'

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Published Oct. 27, 2017

Proving once again his amazing adaptability as a character, Sherlock Holmes is the star of Ridley Pearson's Lock and Key series for middle grade (and, of course, elementary) readers.

Lock and Key: The Downward Spiral is the second book in the series, following The Initiation. Young readers might already be familiar with Pearson's books — he's the author of the bestselling Kingdom Keepers series and many other books for kids (as well as a couple of dozen crime thrillers for adults). He also co-wrote the Starcatchers series with Dave Barry; the first of those, Peter and the Starcatchers, became a hit Broadway play.

The Lock and Key books put Sherlock into a new situation: as a 14-year-old boy attending a private school called the Baskerville Academy. There are several gigantic hounds in the story, but don't look for any hansom cabs rolling out of the London fog. Baskerville is located outside Boston — and in the 21st century. Sherlock's personality has survived the time shift intact: He's a "brilliant boy with far too high an opinion of himself and limited social skills," as one character says.

Pearson focuses not only on Sherlock as a boy but on his relationship with another teen who will, as fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories know, grow up to be his mortal enemy: James Moriarty. In Pearson's books James is a fellow student at Baskerville and already something of a frenemy to Sherlock.

The novels are narrated mostly by James' sister, Moria, who is a very astute 12-year-old. Of Sherlock and her brother, she tells us, "I thought their mutual contempt came from their being so alike."

In The Initiation, James and Moria's very wealthy father died in an apparent accident, but Sherlock convinced them it was murder — and part of a sinister conspiracy. James, as the title suggests, was invited to become the leader of a secret society called the Scowerers that seems to be based at Baskerville Academy.

That plot picks up in The Downward Spiral with James' growing involvement in the group and estrangement from Moria, who's wounded by his coldness, especially since, with their father dead and their mother having left the family years before, she feels quite alone. For help and comfort she turns to Sherlock — "Lock" to his few friends — whom she is irritated by and attracted to just about equally.

Sometimes all three young people work together to solve one of the book's myriad mysteries, such as the use and meaning of a key left to Moria by her father. At other times, Sherlock and Moria are at odds with James, who is already learning to enjoy power a little too much.

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No one — the Moriarty family servants, the school's teachers, an Interpol agent called Detective Colander — seems trustworthy, and the Baskerville Academy seems to have a shockingly high incidence of kidnappings.

But Sherlock's trademark brilliance often saves the day, and Moria, who is smart and no-nonsense with a tart sense of humor, makes a fine partner in fighting crime.

She's also more morally grounded than her brother, whom we can see morphing into the master criminal he'll become. When Sherlock slips her a note at a mall food court by disguising himself as a busboy, Moria says, "I thought it strange and somehow predictable that neither Lois nor I had looked to see who was clearing our table. I condemned myself for not even thinking of this act as being performed by a fellow human being. Worse: Sherlock had known we wouldn't look up at him, and that disturbed me most of all."

Contact Colette Bancroft at or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.