The Initiation: Lock and Key, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Initiation: Lock and Key, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Suspenseful intro to a modern-day young Sherlock Holmes.

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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. Also, riddles offer readers a chance to solve mysteries along with Sherlock, but good luck keeping up with him!

Positive Messages

No one trusts anyone or tells the whole truth, but friendship is still valued and sought as ardently as the truth.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The narrator, Moria, is younger than her secretive brother and often dismissed because she's a girl, but, unlike her brother, she knows whom to trust -- namely, Sherlock. She's also bright, brave, and doesn't lose her temper as easily as her brother. She does what she can to protect James from himself.


The death of a parent from foul play. A few assaults -- one almost leads to kidnapping, another involves the character drugged, kidnapped, and dumped somewhere safe. A tattoo applied by hand. Talk of a mother's strange disappearance when kids were young.


A kiss on the hand.


Quick mentions of things like Lincoln cars, Mac computers, Snapchat.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man with a cigarette, a mention that Moria and James' grandfather "turned to drink."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Initiation is the first 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, Moria, narrates. The tension is high as clues to a missing Moriarty family Bible emerge, but the violence is relatively low. Expect the death of a parent from foul play, plus a few assaults -- one almost leads to kidnapping, another involves the character drugged, kidnapped, and dumped somewhere safe. While no one trusts anyone else in this story, friendship and the intelligence to solve complicated clues are both valued here.

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What's the story?

In THE INITIATION, when you're a Moriarty you're just expected to go to Baskerville Academy. James' great-grandfather helped found the New England school and the idea that he'd want to attend public school in the fall appalls his father. Especially after the family's Boston home is broken into and James tied up. James' father won't explain, but says the gesture has something to do with his attendance there. What he does offer is to let James' sister, Moria, attend Baskerville Academy, too. Before they depart, Moria is called into her father's office. As with James, their father continues to be evasive. He says he will be traveling a lot, and if something were to happen to him -- don't ask what -- she would find the key to his desk in the fireplace ashes. Moria is alarmed but agrees, as she agrees to follow her brother to school and keep an eye on him. But it's no easy task when James not only starts hanging with the wrong crowd -- totally rejecting his nerdy roommate, Sherlock Holmes, in the process -- but also starts receiving clues to find a stolen Moriarty family Bible that he's blamed for stealing and even threatened over. Why is this Bible so important? And why won't James accept Sherlock's brilliant help in finding it?

Is it any good?

Even with far too much aggravating animosity between two of the main characters -- James Moriarty and a young Sherlock Holmes -- this mystery series start proves provocative and suspenseful. Sure, James and Sherlock are destined to be sworn enemies eventually according to their creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But here they're just freshmen roomies. Every time young, well-meaning Sherlock tries to apply his brilliant mind to helping James with his what help he can be to them. Watching Sherlock's analytical mind in action and Moria and Sherlock's friendship deepen are two great joys in The Initiation.

Author Ridley Pearson chose his narrator well in Moria. She makes it easier for the reader to feel for her standoffish family members because she cares so much for them. And her steady presence makes it easier to accept how much the reader doesn't know: about the school history, the headmaster, the family Bible, the secret society, and even what adults do when they leave the school. There's a lot of mystery here on which to build a hefty series and usher in a new set of Sherlock Holmes fans.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about trust in The Initiation. Do you trust the headmaster? How about James' chosen friends? Or even Sherlock? 

  • Why do you think author Ridley Pearson chose Moria as the narrator and not her brother James or Sherlock? What characteristics does she possess to make her a more reliable narrator? Would you like to see the story for James' or Sherlock's perspective?

  • Will you keep reading the Lock and Key series? Or try to find out more about Sherlock Holmes?

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