Unlike recent television remakes that place Conan Doyle’s characters in a modern city (be it London or New York), Ellie Marney has created an entirely new cast of characters. We see the story unfold through the eyes of Rachel Watts, a seventeen year old country girl transplanted into the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Her longing for the bushland expanses of Five Mile is palpable, and Marney paints a vision of rural Australia so real, so immediate, you can almost smell the gum trees.
Rachel embodies one of the dominant themes of the novel — family. What holds us together, what tears us apart, what makes us stronger. The Watts family all deal with the move to Melbourne in different ways, and the delicate interplay of brother and sister, children and parents, lays a backdrop for the adventure that sweeps Rachel well out of her comfort zone.
Rachel comes with baggage, but so does the energetic and enigmatic James Mycroft — her neighbour and classmate, himself a transplant, but this time from London. Mycroft is a bit of a tortured genius and a whiz at forensics, an immediately fascinating character who fairly bounds from the page and into our imaginations. Why does he live with his anti-social Aunt Angela? What happened to his parents? And how did he earn the scars that cover his body? The answers to these questions emerge over the course of the novel, and they play a poignant counterpoint to the daily trials faced by Rachel’s family as they struggle to get by in the big smoke.
“Mycroft is a bit of a tortured genius and a whiz at forensics, an immediately fascinating character.”
The story takes off when Rachel and Mycroft stumble onto the scene of a murder. Convinced the police are on the wrong track, Mycroft takes it on himself to solve the crime. Let the amateur sleuthing begin! But not everybody is happy with two teenagers poking around a homicide investigation, least of all the police, and things don’t always go according to plan. The pair have to deal with obstacles never faced by Holmes and Watson: angry teachers, disapproving parents, the threat of suspension or expulsion, and the very real risk of being grounded.
Marney makes another move away from the traditional roles of Holmes and Watson, in that Rachel is an equal partner in the pair’s investigation. Rather than wait for Mycroft to solve the next piece of the puzzle and explain it to her (or leave her in the dark, as Holmes was inclined to do with Watson), she hunts for clues on her own, takes risks, and does as much saving as being saved when things get dicey.
Every Breath is a fabulous mix of gritty YA and the time-honoured murder mystery. Marney’s crisp prose crackles with wit and vivid imagery, and the romantic tension between our teenaged detectives is so taut it hums like harp strings.