Bonnie Macbird What Child Is This

Why we read is an important clue to what we read, and can hand us a clue as to the import of reading.  As the world grows cold, we turn to comfort food, and comfort reading.  Putting the two phrases together makes the necessity of good reading clear, but we all define comfort reading differently, personally.  For me, comfort reading is either Sherlock Holmes or Cthulhu Mythos.  Neither is an obvious choice.  But both serve some basic “nutrition for the mind” need.  All this goes to say that in this moment, when (as ever) the world spins madly out of control, nothing could be more welcome than a finely written, gorgeously illustrated Sherlock Holmes Christmas novel, in this case Bonnie Macbird’s What Child Is This.  It’s a page-turning delight, a balm to soothe the troubled mind, and exactly the sort of brain food to nourish the troubled soul.

Doyle himself was no stranger to the charms (and commercial potential) of a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story, and What Child Is This wear its inspiration (The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle) right up front.  But what Macbird does quietly and elegantly in her novella, with the help of illustrator Frank Cho, is to re-create the joy of Conan Doyle’s work for the 21st century, while retaining the 19th century setting. What Child Is This strides the line between novella and short novel, giving readers enough depth to feel luxuriated and keeping the pace brisk but not hurried.  Cho’s illustrations are delightful punctuations for Macbird’s crisp prose.  Yes, this is your Christmas book gift for your friends.

But mostly it’s a gift for you the reader.  Holmes and Watson, and Hepzibah Green, Macbird’s charming addition to the regular Holmes cast, find themselves tasked with two mysteries, both involving missing children, one an adult child, the other a very young boy.  Macbird is a master of staying out of her own way, which is to say that the world around you slips away and you find yourself reading an immensely enjoyable new novel (it has that feel and depth if not the length) in which Sherlock Holmes not only does his thing, but is seen to discover things within himself that feel just right for Sherlock.  Nothing too heavy, just purely logical, though they serve the readers’ emotional needs.

We need both the logic and the emotion, expertly administered by excellent writing and a cunningly conceived story.  Holmes stories offer the comfort not only of justice, but also of reality.  Holmes is the ultimate realist; he’s able to see through artifice and pick up the details that make a difference.  The character dictates the story, and if followed well, as Macbird certainly does, a Holmes story fills in the narrative void that looms before us with each uncertain day. 

In our conversation about this book, Bonnie Macbird fills in some narrative voids as well, as we discuss comfort reading, encountering Holmes for the first time as a reader, and pastiche as an artform, stepping beyond mere imitation into pure narrative.  Download here, or listen now.

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