Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage

Image of Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage (Mycroft & Sherlock)
Release Date: 
September 24, 2019
Publisher/Imprint: 
Titan Books
Pages: 
336
Reviewed by: 

“With a diverse and colorful cast of characters, and two very challenging crimes to solve, The Empty Birdcage is a delightful telling of the relationship between a pair of siblings destined for greater things, while giving some insight of why they become the way they are later in life.”

Mycroft Holmes may be young but his knowledge and intelligence have already made him invaluable to the Crown. He’s also in love, but it’s an emotion that can never be admitted, for the object of his affection is Ai Lin, a Chinese woman betrothed to someone else.

In 19th century Victorian England, both are reasons for him to keep his passion secret.

When her fiancé is abducted and taken back to China on a trumped-up charge of treason, Ai Lin’s father asks Mycroft to intervene and save his life for the family is counting on Bingwen Shi’s money to save their business.

How can the young man refuse?

At the same time, a killer called the Fire 411 Killer is on the loose, and a distant relative of Her Majesty is a victim. Mycroft’s younger brother Sherlock has been following the case—eight victims of different ages, from different stations in life, killed in various ways in different parts of the country, no commonality between them except a note, reading, “The Fire 411.”

Sherlock wants badly to be involved in the case but to that end, Mycroft disagrees.

“That is not what our people do. Such a profession is for those of few means and little education.”

“But you are describing me to a T,” Sherlock protested. “As for ‘our people,’ surely you are not speaking of our mother’s drug addiction or our father’s passivity? If so, which of those should I emulate?”

Eventually, he convinces Mycroft to have the Queen appoint him official investigator on the case.

“You have a brother, Mr. Holmes? Is he anything like you?”

Microft sighed. “I fear he is, Ma’am.”

To make certain he has nothing else to impede his investigation, Sherlock also gets himself expelled from Downing University, thus setting aside such bothersome things as attending classes and studying.

Each brother goes about his appointed task, each with a companion—Mycroft with Cyrus Douglas, former slave and owner of a rehabilitation house in London, now disguised as Mycroft’s valet; Sherlock with Huan, Mycroft’s Trinidadian bodyguard, charged to look out for baby brother.

The game’s afoot on two fronts of crime as the brothers forge ahead with their separate investigations. There will be confrontations with arms dealers, mention of the excavation of ancient Troy, and the failure of a certain mining company. In his own way, each will face a challenge and a decision. For Mycroft, it will be a choice between letting his rival live or die for a love he knows is impossible. For Sherlock, it will be showing dubious mercy to a killer.

From Arthur Conan Doyle’s description of Mycroft Holmes, it’s difficult to envision that character at the age of 27, young, slim, and in love. It’s equally challenging to think of Sherlock at 19—“a boy with the loose, gangly limbs of a scarecrow, and the shrewd, inquisitive face of an eagle,” a teenager struggling through college classes while his “powers of observation” are still growing—and yet, here they are.

Though there isn’t that much mention of family background on the two, except for the occasional reference to the mother’s addiction or the father’s nonparticipation in their lives, there is a great deal of concern shown in Mycroft’s worrying over Sherlock. Almost ten years older, he becomes more or less his brother’s guardian, doling out allowances, and keeping track of Sherlock’s grades and university antics. He’s obviously bewildered and a little resentful at finding himself in this position and isn’t quite sure how to treat his younger brother, often worrying that Sherlock’s somewhat erratic behavior is a sign that he may be about to take the same path mentally as their mother.

As dismayed as Mycroft may be in finding himself in this position, he truly cares for Sherlock as is shown by his sending Huan with him, ostensibly as a driver but in actuality as his bodyguard.

The Empty Birdcage may contain a bit more emotion than is usually found between the brothers, but after all these are younger versions of the two, pre-Dr. Watson, if you will. By the time the good doctor shows up, Sherlock is the age Mycroft is in this story, and Mycroft is much older, and each is well settled into the life he will lead.

With a diverse and colorful cast of characters, and two very challenging crimes to solve, The Empty Birdcage is a delightful telling of the relationship between a pair of siblings destined for greater things, while giving some insight of why they become the way they are later in life.