Title: The Strangest Forms
Series: The Adventures of Holloway Holmes
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 290 Pages
Category: YA, Murder Mystery
Rating: 4.5 Stars
At a Glance: The Strangest Form is on-brand Gregory Ashe—the pining, the missteps, the pining, the misunderstandings, the pining . . . Jack and Holloway are a convincing and competent sleuthing team who were woefully underestimated by a killer. Their next case promises more danger to life and limb, much more angst, and maybe a few more cautious smiles from Holloway along the way.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Watson is dead. Holmes is alone. And Jack is desperate.
Sixteen-year-old Jack Moreno is managing to hold his life together. Barely. After a terrible car accident leaves his father unable to work, Jack makes ends meet by dropping out of school and covering his dad’s custodial shifts at a school for troubled teens, high in the Wasatch Mountains. Everything is going all right until the night Jack finds Sarah Watson—yes, descendant of that Watson—dead.
When the icy but intriguing Holloway Holmes—yes, descendant of that Holmes—learns of Watson’s death, he is determined to discover the killer on his own. But Jack and his father are the prime suspects in the official investigation, and Jack refuses to sit by and wait.
In an uneasy alliance with Holmes, Jack must hurry to learn what really happened to Sarah Watson, which means facing down a Moriarty, unearthing secrets and blackmail, and trying to solve the other murder at the Walker School, one that happened more than twenty years before. Working together is the only way Jack and Holmes might find the killer before he catches up with them, but both boys are keeping secrets of their own—secrets that threaten the fragile trust they’ve managed to build between them.
Review: Last month, the venerated Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes entered the public domain. What better way to celebrate that, then, than to meet the descendants of the characters Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made famous? And who more likely to do it than Gregory Ashe?
But first, meet Jack Moreno. He’s our narrator on this arduous trek to find a killer, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to be a reliable one. Jack is a sixteen-year-old high school dropout with a backstory meant to destroy my confidence that he was anything like a typical teenager. Jack and his dad live in a cottage at the Walker School, a place where the ultra-wealthy send their troubled teens when they can’t be arsed to care for them. Or, just as often, risk being publicly humiliated by their delinquency. Mr. Moreno is a school custodian. But, more rule than exception, it’s Jack who does the work. His dad suffers disabilities as a result of a tragic car accident. They are struggling.
Jack is struggling.
Then he finds a dead body in a dumpster, and nothing is okay again for a long time.
Sarah Watson was one of Jack’s regular buyers. Yes, Jack has a side hustle. His dad’s medical bills are astronomical, his needs many, and there’s no money to pay for it all, much less to accommodate their daily living expenses. So risk versus means and opportunity meet a literal captive audience of students in want of everything from drugs to condoms. The hook is that the cops—one cop in particular—presume Jack is the killer, and they’ll do anything, including build a case around his dad, to reel Jack in.
Enter Holloway Holmes. Having an ancestor like Sherlock means quite a few assumptions are made about the teenager’s detective skills. Many, though not all, are correct. There’s no doubt he has the instincts and is not lacking in intellect and curiosity. There is also little doubt that Holloway suffers or that Jack misinterprets what he reads and sees on the surface. Jack often wonders if Holloway is even human for as much he seems to mimic a human rather than behave and react like one. There are torrents of torment beneath Holloway’s actions and reactions, though. Letting each other in is a journey. But the destination is still a long way off.
If there is one absolute, one guarantee, it’s that Ashe is going to deliver slow-burn pining to maximize the anxiety between his characters, not to mention between his characters and their audience. It’s his brand as much as the mysteries he writes. Jack and Holloway are pining, they are misery and conflict, but they are learning to be friends as they search for clues. Missteps and misunderstandings notwithstanding. Jack’s new girlfriend could be a sticking point.
The Watsons, the Moriartys, and Blackfriar Holmes (Holloway’s sadistic father) converge to make for a full and rich cast that may share surnames with their ancestors but have broken form from the expected. Whether there will be a “Mycroft” introduced to Holloway’s story remains to be seen. What is known is that Jack and Holloway are a convincing and competent sleuthing team who were woefully underestimated by a killer. Their next case promises more danger to life and limb, much more angst, and maybe a few more cautious smiles from Holloway along the way.
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