Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
There are many universal truths in the world, and this is one of them: for every Holmes, there is a Watson. And for every Holmes and Watson … there is a Moriarty. Jack is sixteen years old, working as an off-the-books janitor at a school for troubled teens where he covers his father’s shifts, sells drugs, and does what he can to get by. One of the people he sells to is none other than Sarah Watson, who is now quite dead, lying sprawled in the trash at Jack’s feet. So Jack does what anyone would do and goes home to call 911.
For such a smart kid, Jack can do stupid things. Now he’s a suspect and so is his father. It’s not just the police who want answers to their questions, it’s also the creepy Holloway Holmes who is, of course, playing boy detective. Jack has another stupid moment and asks Holmes to help him; after all, they’re both out trying to accomplish the same goal, so why not work together? Holmes, needless to say, is neither impressed nor interested.
Somehow, though — maybe it’s Jack’s natural charisma, maybe it’s out of sheer self defense — Holloway finally agrees to let Jack help him, leading them on a mission to find a Moriarty, a few fights, a few lies, another dead body or two … and still no closer to answers.
The Strangest Forms is the first book in the Adventures of Holloway Holmes series, and I cannot wait for book two. For all that Jack is sixteen and working at a high school, this book is not YA by any means. It features underage sex, a lot of drinking, drugs, and poor decision making with revenge porn, implications of child abuse, sexual blackmail, normal blackmail, violent fight scenes, and intended sexual assault. In a way, it feels reminiscent of old-school detective novels with seedy underbellies and smoky back rooms, and I loved it. It’s also not a romance, not yet, but there is a great deal of sexual tension, unrequited feelings, and a clueless narrator.
Jack is a young man who has been through a great deal. His mother died in a car accident that left his father disabled with seizures and migraines, and the both of them homeless and drowning in debt. While his father was able to get a job as a janitor — which comes with a house — Jack does all the work, often working from morning until evening without getting paid. (Well, he gets ‘paid’ in that his father isn’t fired.) He isn’t allowed to attend classes, so it’s Wikipedia when he’s bored or when he’s trying to learn something. He deals drugs out of necessity, because his father’s medication isn’t cheap and the paltry sum they make off his father’s paycheck isn’t enough to cover it.
This leads Jack into trouble as the person he buys the drugs from, the person he now owes money, hates him and would like to see him beaten to a pulp. He’s pretty sure the school guidance counselor wants to fuck him, the school bullies would like to beat him up — save for the one who wants to fuck him — and he can’t not open his mouth to save his life. But Jack is still a good kid, beneath it all. He wants to find out who killed Watson to clear his father’s name, and he wants to help Holloway because he likes the guy. As a friend, of course.
Holloway, who we see through Jack’s eyes, could be read as neurodivergent. He’s slow to show emotions, and slow to read them on other people. He’s clinical and calculating, often ignoring his need to eat in favor of taking pills to keep his mind sharp, and avoids making friends. However, he came across to me as a severely wounded a traumatized young man. Having to live beneath the Holmes name, always being a figure of public interest, he has to be perfect. He has to uphold the reputation, the image, the elegance, and power of it without being shown to be flawed. Or human.
I really don’t want to get too much into a character analysis on either character because I think it’s best to go into this book blind, to let the characters, their motivations and flaws and vulnerabilities be told through the book. Jack’s voice is strong, all bold bluster and crippling insecurity and self-doubt, and he goes from being a foolish teenager to a perceptive and clever detective in his own right. Jack knows people, understands what makes them tick, and the more time he spends with Holmes, the more he puts together, and yet he doesn’t always see what’s in front of him.
The story behind and between the growing relationship is very well put together. The moments between Jack and Holmes are weighted in emotion and humanity, the uncertainty of two boys who have both — through various means and for various reasons — lost their parents and lost their faith that there is fairness and justice in the world:
“I am sorry, Jack.”
“Yeah, well, me too.”
“I don’t know, H.” I started the truck and backed out of the stall. “That’s just what people say at the end of a fight.”
While the murder mystery does get solved, with the usual red herrings, false starts, and twists and turns, the real villain who revealed at the end is wonderfully vile. The implications of what they’ve done and why they’ve done it make me eager to see them brought down in future books. If you’re a fan of mysteries, thrillers, detective novels, and Sherlock Holmes retellings, you’ll enjoy this book for all the little homages. If you’re a fan of complex character work, strong writing, and slow burning romances, you’ll like this book. If you like revenge stories, you’ll probably be like me, waiting for the next book. And the next, and the next …
I honestly enjoyed everything about this book, but it is on the darker side. This isn’t a light-hearted romp through a meadow, this is the beginning of a journey through a dark and twisty wood, and I”m here for the whole ride.
Hmm, I’m not typically one for dark stories, Elizabeth, but you’ve piqued my interest. Off to download a sample….
I really hope you enjoy it!