Since Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective is one of my favorite animated movies, I’ve been meaning to read the books the movie is based on. Finally I got around to reading Basil of Baker Street.
Basil is a mouse who lives in the basement of Sherlock Holmes’ house on Baker Street. He idolizes the human detective and does everything he can to imitate him. In the process, Basil has become quite a detective in his own right.
This is a fairly straightforward mystery adventure, meaning that there’s no hint that the reader should be able to solve the mystery before Basil does—like Dawson, we’re just there to watch him be brilliant as the plot falls into place. Basil of Baker Street is the first of the Basil books which are explicitly intended to encourage kids to further explore the adventures of Sherlock Holmes—this novel is dedicated to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s son Adrian, and the “About the Author” section quotes his praise and mentions that several Sherlockian collectors have also collected the Basil books. I’ll admit this feels a bit like delusions of grandeur, but the novel is a cute mystery for younger readers.
The plot isn’t the same as the movie, although a lot of the same feel is here. There are disguises and kidnappings and a few fights. In the end it’s cleverness that wins the day.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The issue isn’t swearing, but the book was written in 1958, loosely in the style of Doyle, and some of the language and usage will be unfamiliar to most young readers. At one point a character is described as “gay” meaning colorful and happy. If you haven’t had that conversation with your kid about when and how “gay” can and should be used, you may need to in chapter 2. The names of famous composers and writers are sprinkled throughout the text, and Robert Burns is quoted in dialect.
The pretty young mother mouse and her adorable little girls are white mice. I don’t think this is intended as even unconscious racism—I think it’s more about white mice being cute pets as opposed to the grey variety you set traps for. Nevertheless, the fact that they are white and that white is pretty is called out a few times.
There are a few fights. The most intense is against a young owl. By ganging up on the bird, the mice manage to defeat it. This leads to an odd exchange where Basil discusses its breed, age, and size, then notes that it’s severely hurt. And that’s it. Because half a page or so is spent personalizing the owl, I expected them to find some way to help it or something. But no. They just keep going.
Breaking the Law
The case is a kidnapping of two little girls, lured by a stranger with candy. The man keeping them captive isn’t the original kidnapper—he’s being coerced through threats to his family. He brings the girls sweets and does his best to keep them safe. Basil goes behind the constable’s back to try to protect this man from being caught, although he doesn’t promise that the villains won’t implicate him, so jail may still be in his future. Still, it’s clear that Basil doesn’t think he should be held accountable for his role in the whole debacle.
I enjoyed this little book. It’s kind of an odd fit—it’s short with a fairly simple plot and sweet pencil drawings throughout (and my copy has an animated mouse from a children’s movie on the cover) but the language is a challenge. It’s probably best for younger precocious readers or as a read aloud. Adults familiar with Sherlock Holmes may enjoy the parallels.
Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
Published in 1958 by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
First in a series
Read my old personal copy
Appears to be currently out of print