The Downward Spiral: Lock and Key, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Downward Spiral: Lock and Key, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Moodier young Sherlock sequel is chock-full of secrets.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty were characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 19th century. They get a 21st-century update here. Readers learn the basics of the Caesar Cipher, visit the Boston Public Library and the Fordham Fashion Museum.

Positive Messages

Loyalty to family and pursuit of the truth supersede all. Power is seen as a corrupting force that makes people do terrible things to get it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Moira continues to be brave and resilient as she comes closer to losing the support of her older brother, James. James is a tragic figure on the "downward spiral" of the book's title. James realizes he's drawn to the truth, just as Moira is, but also to power, and he begins to be corrupted by those who give it to him.


Murders of adults: One hit with a rock, another by a truck. Kidnappings, drugging, and tying up of kids ages 12 to 14. One young teen beaten up by a group of men gets a broken nose, ribs, and ankle. A girl nearly drowns in a bath after being drugged. Men injured by nunchaku, knives, and a bola. Sailing in a squall nearly leads to drowning. Talk of the recent death of a father from foul play and a mother's strange disappearance when kids were young.


A kiss.


Mentions of nice cars, boats, priceless paintings, and wealth. A few everyday brands, like Hello Kitty, called out, and some movie mentions.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Downward Spiral is the second book in the Lock and Key series by Ridley Pearson, author of Peter and the Starcatchers and The Kingdom Keepers series. Lock and Key features a modern-day high school-age Sherlock Holmes and his eventual enemy, James Moriarty (according to the original series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Here, Sherlock and James are roommates at Baskerville Academy in New England, and James' younger sister, Moira, narrates. The violence amps up from the tamer first book, The Initiation. Two adults are murdered: One is hit with a rock, another by a truck. Kids ages 12 to 14 are kidnaped, drugged, and tied up. One young teen is beaten up badly by a group of men. A girl nearly drowns in a bath after being drugged. Men are injured by nunchaku, knives, and a bola. Sailing in a squall nearly leads to drowning. There's also much talk about the recent death of James and Moira's father from foul play and their mother's disappearance when they were young. Moira is brave and resilient in the face of danger. While her brother, James, is also after the truth about their father, he's tempted and corrupted by the power given to him.

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What's the story?

In THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL, Sherlock sneaks into the Moriartys' Boston mansion over holiday break to help Moira and James Moriarty figure out the riddle their father left in his study before he died: "When all that's left is right." They think that clue, and the key he left Moira in the fireplace ashes, leads to the answers to all the Moriarty family secrets, including who may have wanted to kill Mr. Moriarty. Little do they know how many secrets this family has. And the more they find -- starting with a hidden room off the study and Mr. Moriarty's journal written in ancient Greek -- the deeper they go into this mysterious realm of secret societies and desperate plays for power. James, deemed the new head of the Scowerers society after his father's death, is the first to get caught in the power struggle when a simple "favor" to spy on a classmate's father leads to the man's not-so-accidental death.

Is it any good?

This sequel builds in many layers of secrets and ciphers to keep the mystery series nearly as sharp and quick as young Sherlock himself, though sometimes at the expense of character depth. It's almost hard to count all the mysteries in play at the same time: the journal, the mother's disappearance, the father's death, the gold bars and paintings in the hidden room, the two secret societies and their hierarchies and power struggles, the spying, the deaths, the disappearance of the necklace ... it keeps going. It's hard to always tell which lead the story will follow next and what new layer of mystery it will reveal, but like most Sherlock-inspired stories, all that guesswork is a big part of the thrill.

The paths of two Moriarty siblings diverge here: James takes the moody tragic path; Moira the more hopeful one that puts trust in the right people, like Sherlock. James' big change in The Downward Spiral needed more time on the page. Without a closer look at his psyche, he downward-spirals into a one-note villain who just wants power far too quickly. And Moira, as the sometimes narrator, needs time to process how closely her family is tied to all kinds of bad things. Instead, we see her pine over Sherlock and get jealous when other girls are around him. It sells her short as a strong female character. Let's hope that in Book 3 author Ridley Pearson brings us as close to these characters as he does to the myriad mysteries in their lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences between James and Moira in The Downward Spiral. Do you think if Moira were tempted with the same power James is, she would be going down the same dark path?

  • What happens to Sherlock and James' relationship by the end of the book? What ties them together? What makes cooperation harder for both of them?

  • Will you read the next in the series? What do you think will happen to James? Moira? Sherlock?

Book details

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