Summer 1869, and Sherlock Holmes and his friend Irene celebrate her sixteenth birthday by attending the theater to watch a celebrated magician make a real dragon appear on stage. It is the London sensation. Sherlock and Irene meet the magician, Alistair Hemsworth - just as he is arrested for the murder of his rival, The Wizard of Nottingham.
It seems that traces of the missing Wizard's blood and his spectacles were found in Hemsworth's secret studio. Hemsworth has a motive: not only is the Wizard his rival, but he also caused a scandal when he lured Hemsworth's wife away. But is Hemsworth guilty? Sherlock has his doubts, and soon, so does the reader.
With humor and plot turns as dizzying as a narrow London lane, Shane Peacock invites his readers into a fascinating world, and a fresh adventure with one of literature's favorite characters. The Boy Sherlock Holmes series is an international success with readers and reviewers alike.
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October 11, 2011
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Excerpt from The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock
The moment the dragon appears on the stage of The Egyptian Hall theater in London, Sherlock Holmes knows there is something truly wonderful, truly disturbed, about Alistair Hemsworth. It is the late summer of 1869, and the boy feels as if he is a man. He is dressed in a coal- black, impeccably cleaned and brushed secondhand frock coat, the first of his life; all its predecessors were much older. Sitting beside him with her mouth as wide as his, celebrating her sixteenth birthday, is Irene Doyle. And she is the most beautiful girl, no, the most beautiful woman, in all of England. Theirs has been a tempestuous relationship, but lately everything has changed. They have been walking out together, she boldly defying her father's wishes, he (seven months her junior), unrestricted in his movements due to the liberal ways of his mentor, the extraordinary Denmark Street apothecary, Sigerson Bell.
Sherlock had been surprised when she told him that this was her birthday and how old she would be turning. He had assumed that she was younger than he. Girls, he was learning, are full of surprises.
But not even they can make a dragon appear.
There are screams in the crowd. Alistair Hemsworth stands in front of jungle trees, a hand on his hip, his chest thrust out, his other arm raised, his index finger pointing at . . . the writhing beast that has materialized on the stage. It is rising up, it seems, from the depths of the underworld below the theater, a remarkable illusion. Even Sherlock can't figure how he has done it. The dragon hisses, it twists in its cage, three- dimensional and rubbery, a muddy green- gray with golden wings - more than eight feet long from head to tail. Women are staggered by it; they shriek and lean on their gentlemen. But Irene Doyle stands upright. Her face is glowing, lit up with excitement, and as she looks at Sherlock and takes his hand, he glows back.
The dragon's hiss seems to have come from backstage and its wings appear to be flapping mechanically - Sherlock thinks he can see thin black strings attached to the wings against the dark backdrop. And yet, the beast appears to be so real! Instead of fire coming from its mouth, a red tongue, forked at the tip and more than a foot long, darts out in a realistic manner, and its shining eyes glare at the audience, animated more by God, it seems, than any human being, no matter how ingenious. If this isn't a dragon, then it is surely an ancient dinosaur . . . somehow brought to life on The Egyptian Hall stage!
Then a sight even more sensational than the dragon appears inside the cage with the beast. A woman, wearing a headdress and a purple Egyptian robe that is tied back to reveal a skimpy white muslin costume underneath, rises to her feet on long, bare legs and stands in front of the dragon! She looks terrified. Hemsworth has put his assistant into the cage with the creature! Her hands are tied behind her back, her mouth gagged and bound. She cries out, but help! is the only word that is recognizable. The screams increase from the audience. Women faint, falling back into their seats. Irene squeezes Sherlock's hand.
Hemsworth turns to the giant lizard and produces a sword out of thin air. "In days of old, the venerable saint slew the dragon at the very moment it approached the princess," he cries, "saving both her . . . and his people!"
The dragon is trying to get at the woman. It is shackled and tethered, but as it strains it seems about to break loose. Will it devour her alive, here on the stage in front of all these people?
"BE GONE!" shouts Hemsworth, shaking his sword at the creature.
Everything - the dragon, the princess, and the cage - vanishes from the stage.
The applause is thunderous.
London has never considered Alistair Hemsworth to be a great magician. No one would rank him among any of the legends now plying their arts in this golden age of magic on the city's stages. Yet, this year, throngs of spectators are coming to see him in never- ending queues.
He was not, like most of the others, born to the profession. In fact, just a few years earlier, he was known, if known at all, as an adventurer. Not a great man like Burton or Speke, the likes of whom braved darkest Africa, made significant discoveries, and brought glory to the empire. He was a different and lower sort - an explorer whose exploits were printed in short notes on the back pages of The Times of London, a dealer in human cargo who found freaks in Oriental jungles for English showmen. It was even whispered that he sometimes dealt in the ignominious and illegal trading of slaves . . . of any skin color.