This is the latest in the Baker Street Boys detective books, based on Anthony Read’s ’80s television series. Set in the Victorian London of Covent Garden and Limehouse docks, the story reintroduces Sherlock Holmes’ ‘Baker Street irregulars’, the street urchins who assisted Holmes for a small reward.
Flower girl Rosie is distressed when her friend, Lily doesn’t turn up at the market. Holmes is away, so the young detectives have to take matters into their own hands and search for her. Sparrow finds a discarded flower tray in an alley, but the enquiry is given a new urgency when Rosie, herself, disappears. It transpires that she is just one of a number of flower girls who has recently vanished. Nobody the boys question seems to be able to help them until a Chinese acrobat at the Imperial Music Hall, where Sparrow works, whispers a mysterious message to him: ‘you go look chasing dragon… By basin. Find you friend there.’ Disentangling these cryptic sentences proves a puzzle for the gang until they see a Chinese laundry van painted with a dragon. Soon they are embroiled in a dangerous search, one which will lead them to the Limehouse lair of a Chinese triad, called Red Fist, involved with both opium and the slave trade – for which the flower girls are destined.
The story gets off to a slowish start, but picks up momentum in the second half and there is much gentle humour, including a nice reference to Pygmalion in flower-seller Eliza’s indignant response to the gent who wanted to make a lady of her. It’s a close call, but Anthony Read stays just this side of cliché in his cockney and ‘Brummagen’ bargeman’s dialogue and steers a careful course with his potentially disturbing material. This is presented tactfully for younger readers in this age group, who will enjoy this engaging detective story, with its shadowy glimpse of arch-villain Moriarty and the timely arrival of Holmes to complete the girls’ rescue. David Frankland’s characterful silhouettes add their own distinct charm.