Billy, Charlie, and Tom are inseparable, and for good reason. Filled with con men and scoundrels, London’s East End is not a place that is easily survived alone. Fortunately, these three boys can count on the protection of Sherlock Holmes, for whom they sometimes act as spies.
When Tom’s girlfriend is kidnapped, the heroes will have to use their budding sleuthing skills to find her. Along the way, they unexpectedly add a fourth member to the team and ultimately become the youngest detectives of the Victorian era.
Les Quatre de Baker Street, Tome 1, by J.B. Djian, Olivier Legrand and David Etien 7.25
I discovered the ‘Les Quatre de Baker Street’ series by pure chance one day while I was browsing my local library’s second-hand bin. I stumbled upon a sort of behind-the-scenes compendium called ‘Le Monde des Quatre de Baker Street’, whose cover featured Sherlock Holmes with three kids and a cat on it.
I’m no great fan of Sherlock Holmes, but one of my best friends is, so I tend to be drawn to anything that involves Holmes as it can make for nice Christmas and birthday gifts. After seeing the quality of the art in this lovely tome, I picked up ‘Le Monde…’. Then, curious, I requested some of the books.
This first volume is our introduction to Billy, Charlie and Black Tom, four street urchins who are frequently used by Holmes as look-outs on his various cases. It finds Tom’s girlfriend, Betty, getting kidnapped in broad daylight by a prostitution ring. Distraught, Tom and his friends try to find rescue her.
It’s a completely separate case from Holmes’, though there are references to some of Sir Conan Doyle’s works along the way, and the famed sleuth briefly appears at the end. But it’s not much of a mystery, so the book is padded with minor character development, long visual set-ups or action pieces.
It’s not exactly meaty stuff – especially given that there are two writers.
What’s galling is that, although Etien’s artistic style is stunning, the book is very pleasing to the eye, and he’s clearly skilled (he penciled, inked and coloured it all!) there are HUGE discrepancies in some of the panels, particularly with respect to the characters’ location from one panel to the next.
For instance, if one looks at page 9 panel 1, you see Tom right in the middle of the street, though he was on a street corner in the previous panel. He’s also no longer facing Betty, unless he walked right out into the street diagonally. Next thing we know, in the long shots, he’s nowhere to be seen. WTF.
Similarly, on page 13, the boys are seen walking down the sidewalk in panel 1, but by panel 2 they’re right in the middle of the street, so far away from the buildings, that they might as well be on the other side of the street. By panel 3, they’re hugging the buildings on the same sidewalk they were initially on.
There are also some storytelling issues, like on page 23, when Billy is caught by a thug as he climbs down a window. Though he’s grasped by his left arm at the elbow, he bites the webbing in the thug’s hand. How he could reach it and why he didn’t fall to his death after the thug let him go, is completely beyond me.
Similarly, on page 44, as this same thug gives our trio chase through the streets, the passage of time isn’t properly established: In panel 2, he’s seen well behind them, at perhaps 30-40 meters. But a racing carriage briefly blocks the kids and, within moments, the thug is upon them, punching Billy to the ground.
Um… how fast is this guy? And, anyway, why didn’t the kids run down the sides of the street instead of waiting for him to catch up?
I honestly didn’t mean to nit-pick this book to death. I don’t know what got over me. For some reason, as I was reading it, a lot didn’t jive. It looked false, which of course compelled me to scrutinize it to figure out what was wrong. And, unfortunately, there were too many moments in which this happened.
Having said this, ‘Les Quatre de Baker Street’ is enjoyable anyway, thin though it may be on plot and suspect in its development at times. I’m certainly not averse to reading another to see if it improves, as it has much potential. And I’m sure fans of Sherlock Holmes can lift all sorts of references layered in it.
To them, I would certainly recommend the book.