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Summary and book reviews of A Slight Trick of The Mind by Mitch Cullin

A Slight Trick of The Mind

by Mitch Cullin

A Slight Trick of The Mind
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 272 pages

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Book Summary

This subtle and wise work is more than a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes but a profound meditation on faultiness of memory and how, as we grow older, the way we see the world is inevitably altered.

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.

Chapter 1

Upon arriving from his travels abroad, he entered his stone-built farmhouse on a summer's afternoon, leaving the luggage by the front door for his housekeeper to manage. He then retreated into the library, where he sat quietly, glad to be surrounded by his books and the familiarity of home. For almost two months, he had been away, traveling by military train across India, by Royal Navy ship to Australia, and then finally setting foot on the occupied shores of postwar Japan. Going and returning, the same interminable routes had been taken–usually in the company of rowdy enlisted men, few of whom acknowledged the elderly gentleman dining or sitting beside them (that slow-walking geriatric, searching his pockets for a match he'd never find, chewing relentlessly on an unlit Jamaican cigar). Only on the rare occasions when an informed officer might announce his identity would the ruddy faces gaze with amazement, assessing him in that moment:...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Cullin's Holmes is a rather nice old fellow. He's still the exceptionally acute observer he always was, but age has added a welcome layer of humanity to his character. Not only has he lost "the arrogance of my youth", but as he points out, he never was the person people took him to be - he never wore a deerstalker or smoked a pipe, these - he says - were just figments of the illustrator's imagination; and he's quite willing to admit that he and John ("you know, I never did call him Watson--he was John, simply John") bungled a number of important cases but "of course, who wants to read about the failures?"   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (270 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This look at Holmes near his natural death is a delight and a deeply satisfying read... 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.

Kirkus Reviews

This extra layer of realistic complexity makes Cullin's immensely moving seventh outing one 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.

Booklist - Stephanie Zvirin

Under Cullin's sure hand, the vibrant, assured detective we know gives way to a man who looks back with regret at missed opportunities in a manner that makes the larger-than-life figure surprisingly human.

Author Blurb Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
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.

Author Blurb Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona: A Novel
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.

Author Blurb Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction
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.

Reader Reviews

Kirconnell

The Beekeeper
I really enjoyed this book. It is a different view of the Sherlock Holmes mythology. Readers of Doyle's detective series have always seen Holmes as an energetic younger man at the height of his mental powers, but what would happen when he gets older?...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 stories about Sherlock Holmes between 1887 and 1927. Since Doyle's time, many authors have been inspired to write further stories about Holmes. In recent years these have included Laurie R King (the Mary Russell novels), Michael Chabon (The Final Solution - which I found to be disappointing) and now Mitch Cullin.

The armonica - a musical instrument constructed of graduated glass bowls with holes and corks in the center - forms a central role in the case that Holmes relates. ...

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