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Snake Bite: 01/30/19

Snake Bite

Snake Bite by Andrew Lane is the fifth Young Sherlock Holmes book. I originally read this before Fire Storm and spent most of the book baffled as to how exactly he ended up aboard a ship headed for China.

So that's how it opens. Sherlock realizes he's been kidnapped and sold to a dubious ship's captain. Since he's en route to China and tons of time to kill, he takes it upon himself to learn Chinese.

Cough cough. Sputter.

I'm not saying Sherlock couldn't learn a dialect and couldn't learn how to read the characters but what the book fails to drive home is that Chinese isn't a phonetic language. Chinese, the written form, is a picture based language that in Sherlock's time, would have been what the Taiwanese call "Traditional Chinese." It's made up of thousands of characters. In traditional form, some characters can have a dozen strokes.

If you know a bunch of written words, you can read anything written in any dialect because it's not phonetic. But, that still leaves learning how to speak the words in at least one dialect. Nowadays because Taiwan and Beijing both speak Mandarin, that's the dialect most often taught to foreign learners. But if you grow up a native speaker, if you're in the PRC, that'll be Mandarin and whatever your local dialect is. If you're growing up in a well established American Chinatown, it's you probably speak Cantonese. But those are just two of the five main dialects. All together there are about two hundred dialects. In Sherlock's time, pre-Cultural Revolution, he would have hit a bunch of them in his travels through this book.

I'm spending all this time talking about the challenge of learning Chinese because Sherlock does it in about what, twenty to fifty pages. (My daughter has been learning it her entire school career, seven years so far and she's "fluent" at the level of about a ten year old native speaker.

So once Sherlock has landed and has somehow made friends with the right people (English speaking people living in China), he ends up at the right place at the right time to solve an unsolvable murder.

The mystery involves a sociopath con-man and his daughter. He happens to have blue skin from a life time of drinking Colloidal silver. There are clues that hint at death by snake (ooo is that a lame reference to the Speckled Band?). And of course, everything is set against the Opium Wars.

The sixth book is Knife Edge (2013).

Two stars

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