May 17th 2016 by Aladdin
I've mentioned before that I am a sucker for cartoon mice, and this is the book that may have started it all. I was pleasantly surprised to see it reissued with the original Paul Galdone illustrations. Since the Ruth Chew reissues have been so successful in my library, I'm definitely ordering this as well as Basil and the Cave of Cats!
Basil is a mouse who emulates Sherlock Holmes to such an extent that he moves an entire mouse community into Holmes' cellar so he can watch his idol at work. Basil's Watson is Dr. David Dawson, who tells the story. Neighbors of Basil's, the Proudfeet, are distraught when their twins daughters, Agatha and Angela, go missing. A ransom note is delivered, Basil sizes up the man who delivers it, and soon he and Dawson are off to the seaside town of Mousecliffe-on-Sea to hunt down the Terrible Three, who are behind the kidnapping. Disguised at seagoing mice, Dawson and Basil chat up a local shopkeeper and locate Harry Hawkins, who has been acting suspiciously. After several escapades, including a run in with a barn owl, the twins are located, taken back to London, and reunited with their parents, who issue a strong warning against going off with men who offer them candy!
Since I read this when I was six, I always thought of it as a children's book, but this is actually a very solid middle grade mystery. The author intended it as an introductory bridge to interest young readers in the Sherlock Holmes' stories, and this is certainly a great way to do it. I certainly didn't get all of the fantastic references to places in London (reinvented for mice) or Sherlock Holmes' capers and habits, and this takes on another level of interest since I know these things now. Younger readers will be captivated by Basil and his methods of detection, as well as by the charming illustrations by Paul Galdone.
The plot is simple enough for younger readers to follow, but has much to offer older readers as well. The London setting will be interesting to students who have read (or have had read to them) classic stories such as Mary Poppins or Peter Pan. I haven't seen the Disney movie version of this, The Great Mouse Detective, but children who have seen that will find it interesting to compare the movie to the book.
It's rare to find a reissue that has some staying power. Perhaps because this is historical fiction Basil's escapades have the same charm and intrigue today that they did when I read them in the early 1970s!