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A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin| Book Review

It has been more than a century that Sherlock Holmes was first introduced to readers and even after Arthur Conan Doyle was finished with one of the most entrancing and enigmatic fictional character of all times, the world wasn’t.

Mr Holmes has kept appearing in countless ways including books that described new adventures, plays, TV adaptations (Elementary, Sherlock, etc.), and movies, ‘The Game of Shadows‘ being the most recent example.

A Slight Trick of the Mind by American author Mitch Cullinadds yet another chapter to the life and works of Sherlock Holmes.

Book Title : A Slight Trick of the Mind
Author :
Genre : Detective Fiction, Crime Thriller
Publisher : Anchor (Reprint edition)
Published in: (9 May 2006)
Jonathan Cape (Main Edition)
Publushed in: (29 May 2014)
Total Pages : 272 (Paperback)
Purchase Links : From Amazon India
From Amazon.com

From the whole lot of fictional detectives created in Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes stood out because of his observation powers and the ability to fit-in every single piece of observation in a coherent pattern, like arranging a canvas that has been broken into hundred pieces. His memory appeared almost photographic in terms of recording and retaining details. And it is with a tiny bit of shock that we meet Mitch Cullin’s Mr Holmes, who is 94 years old and is struggling with his memory.

However, the life this Sherlock Holmes leads is not entirely different than what we should expect. Mitch Cullin builds on the few snatches that Dr Watson let fall during the later adventures of Sherlock Holmes about his retirement, his moving out of London and his love for keeping bees in the country. Here are the relevant sections of the last two books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

The preface of “His Last Bow” (Published in 1917) starts with following text:
The friends of Mr Sherlock Holmes will be glad to learn that he is still alive and well, though somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism. He has, for many years, lived in a small farm of the downs five miles form Eastbourne, where his time is divided between philosophy and agriculture….
And, in the last chapter of this book, Sherlock is described as a tall, gaunt man of sixty, who very proudly shows Dr Watson his own work entitled “A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture“.

In the book published as “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” (1903-1904), the chapter called “The Adventure of the Second Stain” opens with following para:
“I had intended The Adventure of the Abbey Grange to be the last of exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should ever communicate to the public….. The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shown to the continued publication of his experiences. So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of his successes were of some practical value to him, but since he was definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this matter should be strictly observed.”

Thus we know that somewhere in his fifties, Sherlock Holmes moved out of London, got himself a farm and took avid interest in keeping bees and continued his pursuit in study of humanity and philosophy. And so it fits when Mitch Cullin open his “A Slight Trick of Mind” in the time after World War II, and Sherlock has lived so long that the world has changed beyond imagination; his brother Mycroft and his dearest friend Dr Watson are long gone. He has become a living legend thanks to Dr Watson‘s memoirs and has retired to a quiet country village where he is living with his only remaining passion – raising bees.

His life is restricted to the familiar grounds of his estate, his apiary and walks to the seashore. Even these are sometimes too difficult and confusing for him. He has been corresponding with other bee-lovers and naturalists around the world and when we meet him, he has just come back from a trip to Australia and Japan looking for some rare plants that he believes aid to human longevity.

The book runs through three different threads, one is the present day Holmes, second is a recital of an adventure he had when he was 48 years old and third is his trip through Japan. His Japanese host Mr. Umezaki is an oxford educated anglophile, but hardly the nature enthusiast of his letters. As they travel through Japan, Holmes discovers that Mr. Umezaki and his mother were abandoned by his father Matsuda in year 1903, and the last letter he sent home mentioned that he had done so on Holmes’s advice. The young boy grew up without the father and now he is hoping that Holmes could provide him with an answer.

Unfortunately, Holmes has absolutely no recollection of the case. But then he is supposed to be a magician, he is someone who never fails to resolve a case, not in the published works at least, so will he find an answer for Mr. Umezaki?

Then there is the case of Ann Keller and the glass armonicas. Very simple as far as the events go, but it is Ann herself that almost enchants Sherlock. A woman who has faced a fair few tragedies in life and finally destroys herself, sets Holmes alight with a passion he has not known before. Is this the closest he has ever come to love? Or is it what he feels for Roger, son of his housekeeper who also shares Holmes’ passion for his apiary, pride of a mentor or love?


The book doesn’t provide all the answers…but then that is not the purpose of this work. It revolves more around the intricate functioning of a human brain.

  • How do we form and retain memories?
  • Why is it that we can recall some scenes of our lives with every single detail while some years are nothing but blurs of images and no detail comes forward?
  • And as Holmes feels the anguish of being alive when everything and everyone familiar keeps slipping away, either through life or death….why do we keep going on?

Do we have to become too old to recognize that every single day of life is it’s purpose and achievement itself, that there is nowhere to go, nothing to achieve and nothing to complain of, because in a very long time it does not matter anyway…

The sea keeps breaking the stones into pebbles and sand, the sun keeps rising and setting and the moon keeps waning and waxing….they were all here before us and they will all be here after we pass away…As Sherlock himself ended one of his adventures with our favorite quote summing it up very nicely: “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever[‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’, published as part of “His Last Bow” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle].”

The physical world as we know it is probably the only common link between our ancestors and us…

It was the same in their time and it is there for us. But, life as we know intervenes, and a Sherlock Holmes is expected to know all the answers… May be he doesn’t….


So this is not a typical Sherlock Holmes adventure.
But, it is definitely a very good read…….

Additional Info:

The book was first published in 2005 and is now adapted for a movie starring Ian McKellen as Mr Holmes. However, this is not the first work of Mitch Cullin to make it to the silver screen. Out of his seven published works, ‘Tideland’ was adopted for a film by same name that released in 2005.

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