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For Readers Age approx. 14+
Grades 10+
 

Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes - Review
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Publisher's Summary:

Lewis, Ann Margaret. (2010) Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Indianapolis, IN: Gasogene Books. ISBN 978-0-938501-52-7. Author recommended age: Teen. Litland.com recommends 13+ (appropriate for younger gifted readers)  

Publisher's Description:

Follow the great detective as he investigates three baffling cases at the "express desire of his Holiness, the Pope." Stories include "The Death of Cardinal Tosca," "The Vatican Cameos," and "The Second Coptic Patriarch." You'll encounter baffling crimes, rich, historical settings, and a fateful encounter with Father Brown! These thrilling tales of murder and intrigue vividly bring to life three of Watson's "untold tales!"

   

Respect for self and others: This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.
 

What do we see in the classic characters of Holmes and Watson? Respect for the approach taken by Holmes, permitting him to conduct the investigation his own way. Concern for the health and safety of the Pope.  Respect to the purpose and position of the Pope’s guards. Our characters also demonstrate and demand courtesy and honesty and, thus, integrity which breeds its own strength. This is well demonstrated in story #2... we see the confident Sherlock Holmes capable of taking on an apologetic posture. Meanwhile, the Pope (cognizant of his own human faults) also demonstrates self-monitoring and how to lovingly dealing with error.   

And how easy it would be to put blame on others. Yet when the Pope has an angina attack after attempting to keep up with the brisk stride of Holmes, he does not blame Holmes but, rather, blames himself; acknowledging his responsibility for, and failure of, using good sense.  Thus in a world of teen lit  cluttered with narcissistic characters, this book is a refreshing reminder of dignified intelligence.

 


Portrayal of Authority figures: The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”
 

In all three stories, Pope Leo XIII is treated with respect both to historical accuracy of this real person and to the position of Pope itself. The behaviour of those around him is realistic.

 In story 2, the view changes to one of political diplomacy and ruling the best interests of constituents: England’s citizens whose honor is guarded by Queen Victoria, and the faithful Catholic Christians shepherded by the Pope.  The author provides a clear, honest view of each without animosity. Equally important is the explanation given of tactics used by the Pope for the greater good of all.


Citizenship and Patriotism: Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.
 

We certainly see the continued loyalty between friends with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The majesty and pageantry of the Vatican state internally as well as its affairs in the world demonstrate more than pride and affiliation, but a love that is to the core of the human existence. Similarly, the importance of heritage for Queen Victoria’s England is strong and a foundation to the plot itself.  Interestingly, for both we see the loyalty of the leaders to those for whom they are responsible.


Justice and Balance: A just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”

 

It would not be true to Sherlockian fiction if the story did not sharply contrast good and evil, creating a strong presence of evil for the purpose of a more valorous conquest.  After engaging this in the first story, our second story gives a twist: former members of an evil brotherhood who wish to escape the group yet still abide by its traditions.  Thus the characters are put to decide what action to take between two choices that are focused on honor and loyalty...difficult at first glance to see where true good lies. This is a bit more clear, and important, in the third story in which the Pope’s seemingly deceptive tactics are shown as necessary to prevent a greater evil, that of his guard killing a murderer in fulfilling his duties to protect the Pope.


Aesthetic aspects Of life ExperienceLook for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.
 

In story 1, a reference is made to the murderer “touching” his kidnap victim “improperly” as well as lusting after her. However, it puts the situation into context rather than being the focus itself. Thus all three stories provide rich detail on the historical setting, written in Doyle style and so authentic to the period. The beauty of the surroundings is adequately described; the action scenes never digress to unnecessary gore or violence.



Other things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.
 

In the first story, the murderer is a Freemason whose motive is to destroy the Catholic church. Thus, once caught, he exudes a tyrant of fallacies against the Church.  The reader should be of sufficient age to understand these are fallacies.  

This is a very enjoyable set of mysteries, rich in historical “feel”, and appropriate for younger advanced readers. Those interested in Sherlockian fiction might want to look into the following websites: Official Doyle literary estate http://www.conandoyleestate.co.uk/   , The Baker Street Irregulars, who provided feedback on this book,  suggests The Arthur Conan Doyle Society http://www.ash-tree.bc.ca/acdsocy.html  and another group http://www.the-conan-doyle-crowborough-establishment.com/ .

 

So what do YOU think? Read our thoughts on the book and join in the discussion: Litland's Blog   


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