September 17, 2015 6:04 AM EDT

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth Sherlock Holmes has proved an unusually visible character of late: He’s been played on film by Robert Downey Jr. and, in this year’s Mr. Holmes, by Ian McKellen; he’s the star of TV series as varied as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and the procedural Elementary. Each Holmes is redefined (violent, aged, tech-savvy) to suit his new interpreter’s interests.

In his first novel, Mycroft Holmes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar uses the Sherlock story as a way to explore race and history. The former NBA star (who’s written several nonfiction books and is a TIME columnist) takes us to Trinidad with Sherlock’s elder brother Mycroft as he attempts to deduce who or what has been making locals disappear.

The book, co-authored by Anna Waterhouse, lends itself well to Abdul-Jabbar’s interests: Mycroft, a sheltered Brit, witnesses the practice of slavery and learns of his companion Cyrus’ painful past. But Holmesians will find much to appreciate in the novel’s depiction of a character whose mind is as keen as Sherlock’s but who is a less agile sleuth. Mycroft, who travels across the globe at the behest of his friend, is more sentimental than his analytical sibling. Doyle’s Mycroft is lazy and dull; Abdul-Jabbar, a dedicated Holmes fan, gives the young Mycroft appealingly un-Sherlock-like traits and a set of traumas that explain why he eventually left the detective work to his brother.

–DANIEL D’ADDARIO

This appears in the September 28, 2015 issue of TIME.

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