Books & Calendars

Half Bad (Trilogy)
March 27, 2015
Oh Dear Silvia
March 27, 2015
Show all

Slight Trick Of Mind

(16 customer reviews)


500 in stock


In 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex
farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking–about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know. A novel of exceptional grace and literary sensitivity, A Slight Trick of the Mind is a brilliant imagining of our greatest fictional detective and a stunning inquiry into the mysteries of human connection.
The basis for the Major Motion Picture Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney and directed by Bill Condon. Cullin has carefully woven three stories together and managed it so neatly that no threads show–worthy of Holmes himself. The first is the story of Holmes’s recent return from a trip to Japan, ostensibly in search of prickly ash, a bush that he believes contributes to healthy longevity, as does his beloved and trusted royal jelly. While there, he is met by his correspondent, Mr. Umezaki, who isn’t as interested in prickly ash as in gleaning information from Holmes about his long-gone father. Supposedly, they met many years before, in London, and Holmes advised him not to return home. Of course, Holmes has no recollection of the meeting but finesses it nicely.
It is 1947 when they visit Hiroshima, post-atomic bomb, and Holmes marvels at what he sees. He compares it, most poignantly, to the loss of the queen in a hive, “when no resources were available to raise a new one. Yet how could he explain the deeper illness of unexpressed desolation, that imprecise pall harbored en masse by ordinary Japanese?” That is what he tells Roger, the 14-year-old son of his housekeeper. Roger is the second thread of the novel. Holmes is introducing him to beekeeping and Roger proves an apt student. His hero-worship of Holmes and his need for a father form an integral part of Cullin’s intention of “humanizing” the great Sherlock.

Reviews (16)

16 reviews for Slight Trick Of Mind

  1. The Washington Post

    A beautiful novel about Sherlock Holmes. . . . It’s what a novel should be.

  2. San Francisco Chronicle

    Wonderfully written and heartbreaking.

  3. Los Angeles Times

    A wise and touching examination of the human condition.

  4. The Village Voice

    Quite extraordinary. . . . Our hero—our eternal hero—has never been more heroic,
    or more human.

  5. The New York Times

    Beautiful. . . . Cullin is an unusually sophisticated theorist of human nature.

  6. B. Capossere -Posted On

    Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind has a lot in common with Michael Chabon’s The Final
    Solution. Both have at their center an elderly, somewhat frail Sherlock Holmes. Both present
    Holmes in isolation, outside of the familiar haunts and relationships we recall so fondly from
    Doyle’s work. Both have him living into a time period that calls into question his reliance on
    logic and intellect. Most importantly, each, in its own way, offers up one of the best literary
    pleasures a reader is likely to experience this year.
    Cullin places Holmes in his 93rd year, retired to Sussex with his bees and his housekeeper and
    her adolescent son. While Holmes has grown somewhat frail physically (he needs two canes,
    lots of rest), more distressing to him is the obvious loss of his mental faculties. He finds himself
    entering rooms for unknown reasons, forgetting near-events and losing himself in long-past
    ones, falling asleep suddenly in the midst of something. Even more confusing, he finds that his
    renowned logic and aloofness seems to be more and more capitulating to the long-buried
    emotional part of himself, particularly in three-fold fashion: in his reaction to the fatherworship
    of the housekeeper’s adolescent son, in his memory of a decades-old infatuation with a
    woman from one of his old cases, and in his response to a Japanese man who seeks answers to
    why his father long ago abandoned his family at the seeming urging of a younger Holmes.
    The story unfolds in slow fashion, slipping quietly, sadly, smoothly between the three
    storylines. With Holmes, we sorrow in present time over his slipping acuity, mourn the passing
    of that legendary intellect, wince at how easily he forgets, loses himself in time and place and
    deed. We mourn as well the passing of an age where reason and logic could hold such sway as
    it did in Holmes’ hands (a topic more directly focused on in Chabon’s book). Faced as he is
    during his trip to Japan with the devastation wrought by the first atomic bomb–a devastation
    not only of life and place but also of spirit, Holmes begins to question the place of logic and
    reason in such a world.
    Where then can he find solace, if at all? One answer of course is his bees, in their ordered
    humming generational lives. But he is less and less involved in their actual keeping, and so we
    see the seemingly cold Holmes slowly opening up to the possibilities of human connection in his
    interaction with young Rodger, the housekeeper’s son whom he trains to care for the bees as
    he no longer can. And through Rodger we learn of an earlier case of Holmes where for a while
    the machine-like intellect was overrun by a strange infatuation with a woman, one that
    continues even now. And we see him thinking not rationally but emotionally as he ponders
    what to do about the Japanese man who seeks answers Holmes does not have. Cullin has taken
    Holmes and made him human, with all its potential for rapture and ruin.
    Through these perilous waters of fading memory and slipping mind, of human emotion and
    weakness, of past and approaching mortality, Holmes and the reader move slowly, quietly,
    painfully toward an ending that nearly drowns the heart. Highly, highly recommended

  7. Daughters of Irene Adler -Posted On

    What a joy it has been of late for us Sherlockians. Not only has there been a batch of new
    scholarly Holmes-related books to digest and debate–among them THE NEW ANNOTATED
    SHERLOCK HOLMES–but we’ve also been blessed with three very interesting and top-notch
    pastiches. What makes this trio of recent novels so unique is that they come from unlikely
    writers, individuals who fall more into the literary category than the mystery genre. I am, of
    course, referring to the three-headed prong that is Caleb Carr (THE ITALIAN SECRETARY),
    Michael Chabon (THE FINAL SOLUTION), and Mitch Cullin (A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND).
    As I decided to read all three books back to back, I shall comment on them in the order in which
    they were read. For better or worse, I started with the one that I believed would be the most
    satisfying of the trio: Caleb Carr’s THE ITALIAN SECRETARY. However, while I found Carr’s book
    engaging and fun for the most part, I was somewhat disappointed with it. In hindsight, my
    feelings might have more to do with my high regard for Carr’s previous novels–such as THE
    ALIENIST–than it does with the actual quality of his Sherlock novel. In other words, had THE
    ITALIAN SECRETARY been written by someone else, I might not have found myself feeling it
    lacked the strength and depth of story that I’ve come to expect from, yes, a Caleb Carr novel. So
    putting those thoughts aside, I will say that Carr’s book is mostly well written and he has done a
    good job at capturing the spirit, intrigue, and style of Doyle. However, it fell a little flat toward
    the end, giving me the sense of a rushed job. Even so, both his Holmes and Watson are vivid
    and quite enjoyable, and I do hope he tries his hand at another Sherlock pastiche, taking his
    time to draw the story out rather than move it so swiftly to its conclusion. A somewhat slight
    but worthy read nevertheless.
    Next up was Michael Chabon’s THE FINAL SOLUTION, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer’s look at
    an unnamed Sherlock in retirement, set with World War II as the backdrop. This novella–not
    novel–is actually quite wonderful and the writing is fluid, lyrical, and overall rather excellent. To
    be frank, I wasn’t expecting much from such a slim volume that offered us Sherlock as an
    elderly gentleman. But I was mistaken. It is an intelligent diversion, and, like Mitch Cullin’s
    novel, brings the character into a modern age that somewhat confounds him. If I have any
    complaints, though, it is that Chabon made a point of never mentioning Sherlock by name (he is
    simply The Old Man), and, by doing so, skirted the character’s history and much of his
    background, making him a bit one dimensional. The shortness of the book, too, didn’t leave
    much room for the plot (which is, by the way, very interesting) or other characters to be
    developed at any great length. Still, there was enough here to hold my interest, and, in its own
    way, THE FINAL SOLUTION not only compliments Mitch Cullin’s longer work but its themes and
    story also function as a kind of extended prologue to the last book in the threesome. A
    wonderfully written, thoughtful addition to Holmes literature that manages to pack a decent
    punch in too few pages.
    Poor Mitch Cullin, I thought when I finally got around to his A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND.
    Besides holding the distinction of being “the best American novelist you`ve probably never
    heard of,” his attempt to capture Sherlock followed in the shadows of both Carr and Chabon’s
    efforts (although, by comparison, I’m willing to bet Cullin toiled on his book much longer than
    either of his contemporaries). And yet, of the three, his vision of Holmes is the most interesting
    and the best realized. The writing is superb, if not downright poetic at times. Most important to
    me, however, was that the elderly Sherlock of this novel has been humanized in a very realistic
    manner but yet, without question, still reads and sounds like Doyle’s creation. That is no easy
    achievement, and one that should be applauded. In the hands of a lesser writer, this feeble
    version of Sherlock could easily be considered a bad joke, or, worse, a fraud. But Cullin has
    rendered him with such attention and, dare I say it, loving detail that I held no doubts about the
    character by the book`s end. It also helped considerably that this writer had clearly researched
    the Canon in order to keep his facts accurate. However, to say this is a mystery novel would be
    misleading, because it is actually something more than that. Yes, there is a mystery here–
    mysteries, in fact–but they are of the grand human scale (Hiroshima, war, memory, isolation,
    loss of loved ones) rather than the parlor room variety, and as such they are much harder to
    solve. The best of the batch, and a masterful literary effort that is also a worthy addition to the
    Canon Pastiche.

  8. Mary Whipple -Posted On

    In this fascinating portrait, Sherlock Holmes, now ninety-three, deals with the indignities of old
    age and the forgetfulness which accompanies it. It is now 1947, and Dr. Watson has been dead
    for many years. Holmes lives in a small country house in rural Sussex with a housekeeper and
    her 14-year-old son, spending much of his day tending to his bees and working on his writing.
    Frail and reliant upon two canes to get around, Holmes is dedicated to the pursuit of longevity
    and believes that the royal jelly from his hives is a key ingredient.
    Holmes has just returned from postwar Japan, where he has been seeking information about
    the prickly ash plant and its life-giving properties. His host there, the son of a diplomat who
    disappeared when World War II broke out, tells Holmes that his father once met him in
    England, but Holmes no longer remembers the man. As he reminisces about the trip, he wants
    to help the man come to terms with his father’s mysterious abandonment.
    These two settings, one in rural Sussex and one in Japan, in 1947, alternate with “The Case of
    the Glass Armonicist,” an uncompleted story about one of Holmes’s cases from 1902, which
    Holmes hopes to finish before he forgets the details. The story concerns a young man whose
    wife keeps disappearing following her lessons on the glass armonica (sometimes called the
    “glass harmonica”). Holmes follows the woman, often donning a disguise to get closer to her. In
    formal Victorian language, Holmes tells a story reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in style.
    Cullin has created a plausible psychological profile for Holmes, who, to the best of anyone’s
    knowledge, has never been in love and has never allowed his emotions to govern his life. Now,
    at the end of his life, he has the same needs and fears as the rest of mankind, a man far more
    human than we have ever seen before, though he retains his dignity. Vibrant physical details
    about the natural world and the places in which the action takes place bring life to the
    narrative, which is unusually sensitive in its descriptions of the inner world of an elderly man
    whose memories consist of “brief remembrances that soon became vague impressions and
    were invariably forgotten.”
    Gracefully combining all the story lines, Cullin leads the reader to a conclusion which is
    especially memorable for its completeness. Here Holmes concludes his searches, lays his
    philosophical ponderings to rest, and tries to find whatever peace is possible for a solitary man.
    A captivating continuation of the Sherlock Holmes legend.

  9. C. Hutton -Posted On

    Sherlock Holmes remains alone of all the Victorian literary heroes from the last century. Even
    when “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (graphic novel and film) convened a who’s who
    of these super-heroes, Sherlock Holmes was excluded for he was in a league of his own.
    From “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (1974) of Nicholas Meyer (where Sigmund Freud works
    with Sherlock) to the current Mary Russell series of Laurie King (where Sherlock finds a brilliant
    feminist mate), the fun has been reading of the new situations that Sherlock finds himself
    placed in while staying true to the canon created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Mitch Collin’s
    contribution to the genre is imaging Sherlock as a 93 year old in the aftermath of World War II.
    It is an entertaining read which aspires to a poignant ending. The writing is clear and crisp
    without a misstep. The creative difference is Holmes pondering his inner emotional life in the
    twilight of his days. The reader does not need to be a Sherlock Homes fan to appreciate this
    novel. Afterwards the reader may want to consult Leslie Klinger’s “The New Annotated Sherlock
    Holmes” (2004) which contains all 56 of the short stories to see if Mr. Cullin got the details
    right. I believe that he did.

  10. Bookreporter -Posted On

    In Mitch Cullin’s fond memoirs of Sherlock Holmes living out his golden years, we see the
    solitary man at 93 and freshly returned from a trip to Kobe, Japan. For many years he has been
    retired to his country house in Sussex, having outlived Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and brother
    Mycroft. He wishes for nothing more than the solitary life — not surprising, never having been
    a particularly gregarious sort — and the time to tend his bees. But, however improbable, the
    14-year-old son of his widowed housekeeper becomes his unlikely companion.
    “…they faced the hives together, saying nothing for a while. Silence like this, in the beeyard,
    never failed to please him wholly; from the way Roger stood easily beside him, he believed the
    boy shared an equal satisfaction. And while he rarely enjoyed the company of children, it was
    difficult avoiding the paternal stirrings…”
    Roger, quite obviously in awe of the aged detective, eagerly aids him with his apiary and escorts
    him around his gardens. The lad soaks up everything like a sponge and thirsts for more. In
    secret, he sneaks into Holmes’s attic library, just to be among the great man’s books and feel
    his ancient aura. While up there one day, Roger discovers an unfinished manuscript among the
    items on the desk. Titled “The Glass Armonicist,” the story chronicles a case pursued by Holmes
    in Dr. Watson’s absence, the subject of this case being a lovely young woman who inexplicably
    seized Holmes’s fancy. She haunts his memory still, despite their brief encounter. As A SLIGHT
    TRICK OF THE MIND unfolds, “The Glass Armonicist” is completed, while Holmes can still sort
    out the sequence of events. This story within a story wonderfully contrasts the quickness of
    Sherlock Holmes in his prime with the man now in his decline.
    Softened by the years, the stoic Holmes feels a genuine fondness for the boy. To his bemused
    astonishment, he seeks to uncover Roger’s personal history, finding him more than merely
    unobtrusive; in fact, quite remarkable. What he knows is that Roger lost his father in the war,
    leaving the child with tender memories and a hunger for a male role model. Holmes met
    another fatherless son on his recent trip to Japan. Unlike Roger’s dad, though, Tamiki Umezaki’s
    father simply made a choice not to come home one day. Both carry the scars of their loss, while
    Holmes fills a void in each of their lives, however fleeting.
    At his advanced age, Holmes is still sharp, but time has dulled the edges of his memory.
    Occasionally disoriented, he sometimes is unsure whether he is remembering something from
    the past or contemporary times. Having lived so full a life, the myriad recollections get jumbled
    and he struggles to put them right. In fact, his journey to Kobe revolved around a chance to
    procure a supply of royal jelly, a substance said to halt the aging process. Holmes fervently
    wishes to stop the advancing brain muddle.
    Beautiful, poignant and very sad, A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND retains enough of Holmes’s
    remarkable powers to delight his many dedicated fans. But there is such exquisite writing,
    moving introspection and gentle ruminations about the vagaries of memory loss to draw in
    every reader who has a heart.

  11. Tinneal -Posted On

    I read this book for two reasons: I greatly enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, and I heard that this
    story is going to be made into a movie starring Ian McKellen as Holmes.
    This story is mainly set 1947, in a cottage on the Southern slope of the Sussex Downs. There are
    two other stories also presented, that take place in the form of flashbacks – one set in post-
    WWII Japan, and one titled ‘The Glass Armonicist’, that took place when Holmes was still in his
    prime. Aside from ‘The Glass Armonicist’, these stories really don’t have much in the way of
    plot. The focus is on Holmes himself, who is ninety-three, retired, and living in a cottage in
    Sussex. He is kept company by his housekeeper and her 14-year old son Roger, who Holmes has
    taken on as a sort-of beekeeping apprentice.
    Holmes struggles with the emotions and grief brought on by the past. He is lonely, as Mrs
    Hudson, Watson and Mycroft have all passed away. He is also trying to come to terms with his
    failing mind and memory, as he struggles to remember and record the case of the ‘Glass
    I found the story to be beautifully written. The writing itself made me feel as though I was in a
    fog as I read, which, combined with the switching back and forth between various memories
    and timelines, really added to the mood of Holmes current state of mind.
    I’m having trouble putting into words exactly how this book affected me, but it was certainly a
    very emotional experience, which involved at least two instances of tearing up. I am looking
    forward to seeing the screen adaptation!

  12. Leah -Posted On

    This book is set after WWII. Sherlock Holmes is in his 90s and suffering from Alzheimers and
    frailty. He lives with his maid, her young son, and his large collection of bees.
    When the story starts, he has just returned from his trip to Japan.
    There are three layers to this tale:
    1) The present, in which Sherlock is back in England with his maid, her son, and the bees.
    2) The recent past, in which Sherlock and his Japanese companion wander around Japan in
    search of “prickly ash,” some sort of plant that allegedly increases longevity.
    3) The distant past, in which Sherlock in his prime solves the mystery of where his client’s wife
    goes during the day.
    The three mysteries (one per timeline) are introduced from furthest past to most current, and
    are addressed (I wouldn’t necessarily say “resolved,” in some cases) in reverse order, with the
    furthest past case closed last. Each story is tragic in its own way, and one actually got me
    watered up.
    It’s a well-written, interesting tale, starring the fabulous Sherlock, who has humbled and
    mellowed in his old age. We finally get to see his point of view, and the toll his life has taken on
    him. Recommended for Sherlock fans. And if you aren’t thrilled with it, don’t worry; the book is

  13. Charles Berman -Posted On

    In outline it sounds almost like a joke, or something deliberately bizarre: a ninety-three-year-old
    Sherlock Holmes travels to Japan. Instead, this is a very sad, wistful novel that examines at
    many angles and with emotional complexity the loneliness and alienation of Holmes’ life and
    the guards he has constructed to keep himself from being consumed by them.
    Mitch Cullin’s prose is excellent and the novel is quietly structured quite exquisitely, with three
    storyline unraveling very comfortably next to one another, and in such a way that events in one
    show Holmes’ growth in another. The Holmes of this book is a very rounded and complicated
    character — and one that it’s easy to imagine could have been the man transformed by Watson
    into the Holmes we know.
    On the Sherlock Holmes myth associated with Victorian mysteries, Mitch Cullin has hung a
    reflective, often melancholy but also philosphic little novel of meaning and missed
    opportunities in our lives. (less)

  14. Gerhard -Posted On

    I tracked this down when I read that Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) was going to film it with
    Sir Ian McKellen in the lead role. There are startling similarities between the two projects:
    Again, we have a curmudgeonly old man in his dotage, presided over by an irascible
    housekeeper, with a pretty blue-eyed teenage boy flitting about.
    This is one of the more intriguing aspects of Mitch Cullin’s book, as he paints a very delicate
    picture of the affection (love?) that Sherlock Holmes has for Roger, the housekeeper’s son,
    whom he introduces to the science and wonder of beekeeping – with tragic results.
    In one of the narrative strands, Holmes pays a visit to Mr Umezaki and Mr Hensuiro in Kobe, a
    discreet gay Japanese couple. Mr Umezaki, in fact, comments on Holmes’s cohabitation with
    another bachelor – Watson, of course – to which Holmes drily replies: “It was purely platonic.”
    And then there is Holmes’s extraordinary chance meeting with the enigmatic Mrs Keller, while
    in disguise – a meeting that haunts him to the end of his days.
    The cover of the version I read has a soft-focus portrait of the traditional profile of Holmes, with
    the hat and pipe. Cullin’s Holmes is quick to point out early on that these were merely
    marketing gimmicks, while his own detective prowess was much exaggerated (by Watson, no
    The book finds him alone in a cottage in Sussex, presiding over his apiary and a fading store of
    memories, contemplating the meaning of existence. If this sounds grim, fear not. This is an
    extraordinary book, elegiac and melancholic, but uplifting in its own way.
    What I particularly liked is how Cullin places Holmes in a historical context, at the beginning of
    “this uncertain age of atomic alchemy”. His visit to Japan and the ruins of Hiroshima, in
    particular, exposes him to the full irrationality of man, and the barbarity of so-called civilisation.
    What role can reason and truth play in a world such as this? Holmes remarks: “I have dipped my
    toes into two centuries and now my race is run.”
    There is so much bubbling beneath the surface of this short, delicate novel. It is understated
    and quietly mannered to the point where it could prove perplexing to many readers, especially
    as Cullin provides no irrefutable answers to the many issues he touches upon.
    As is to be expected, there is not really any sense of an ending either, just a genteel segue into
    the fading darkness of regret and memory.
    Hopefully when it does it get filmed, it will help to dispel the abominations that were the
    Richard Downey Jr. / Jude Law movie versions.

  15. Amy Sturgis -Posted On

    Mitch Cullins has produced a gorgeously-written character study of a 93-year-old Sherlock
    Holmes who is aware of having outlived his contextual moment in time (as well as both his
    biographer and brother), losing his mental as well as physical abilities, and coming to the end of
    his days with unanswered questions about the opportunities he missed during his life and the
    larger meaning of existence itself. It fits very neatly into and extrapolates from the last of
    Arthur Conan Doyle’s canonical Holmes stories, in which readers clearly can see Holmes’s
    loneliness, existential angst, and somewhat repressed humanity asserting itself.
    Cullins weaves several stories together, including the present-day (that is, 1947) mentorship
    relationship between Holmes and his housekeeper’s son, Holmes’s recent post-war journey to a
    devastated postwar Japan (itself in search of meaning in a new era), and Holmes’s revisitation
    of a 1903 mystery that explains Holmes’s later devotion to the study of bees. Repeated themes
    of suicide, pointless death, and potential natural keys to extended life (to what purpose?) raise
    difficult and universal questions to which Holmes — and, for that matter, Cullins — holds no
    definite answers.
    I’ve seen some reviews suggest that this is about Holmes’s regret over missing romance, which
    put me off a bit, but that’s not what I took from my reading of the novel. It’s about intellectual
    fascination and unlikely personal connections and the paradoxical fragility (enter pointless
    death) and strength (enter memory and study) of each. All three storylines — that of Holmes’s
    housekeeper’s son, Holmes’s Japanese hosts, and Holmes’s 1903 subject of investigation —
    reinforce and echo these themes in a beautifully crafted and achingly effective manner.
    A few minor points of characterization failed to convince me, mostly related to Holmes’s “slight
    trick of the mind,” his rather ritualistic means of mourning, but these were surprisingly few and
    far between. On the whole, this is an absorbing and wrenching portrait, one with which all
    Holmesians/Sherlockians, I think, should wrestle and challenge their understanding of the Great
    Detective and what he represents. I’m very glad I read it.

  16. Lori -Posted On

    Mitch Cullin’s “A Slight Trick of the Mind” is a mesmerizing, wonderfully written, inventive novel
    that I thoroughly enjoyed. This novel features Sherlock Holmes, but lest the reader be
    disappointed, it is not the Holmes of Sir Aruthur Conan Doyle. It is a much richer, older and
    emotional Holmes which is the central character of this story. Holmes is a 93 year old man living
    in post WWII England tending his bees. He is grappling with the continual loss of his physical
    abilities as well as his mental prowess. Several relationships are highlighted throughout the
    book which humanizes Holmes in a way that he hasn’t been before. Particularly poignant is
    Holmes’ relationship with the housekeepers young son Roger, who to Holmes’ surprise elicits
    paternal feelings in himself. Cullin is able to weave an enchanting story about a well known
    character with a different but none the less profound impact on the reader. The writing is so
    well done, I was moved to tears, both by the sadness of the situations and the emotions that
    Cullin was able to evoke through his writing. Well Done!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *