ENOLA HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE LEFT-HANDED LADY by Nancy Springer
Enola Holmes is back in her second adventure, and this time she’s in the heart of London. While she’s prowling the dark streets and dangerous alleys of 19th century England, she’s also being hunted by her brother Sherlock Holmes. Nancy Springer has created an excellent series for young readers as well as Holmes aficionados. Two other books have already been published since this one, and a fifth is waiting in the wings.
However, I can’t help but grin just a little at the thought of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting down to read one of Springer’s books. I wonder what his reaction would be. Everyone knows Doyle had a love/hate relationship with his most famous character because he wanted to write more historical (for the time) romances of knights and adventure. Unfortunately for him, but not for the world, Sherlock Holmes resisted even death and came back again and again.
In the medieval romances Doyle wanted to write, women still remained as objects of affection and were helpless to save themselves. That’s not what Enola Holmes is all about. She is a plucky and self-sufficient heroine that today’s youth will readily embrace. I can’t help but wonder if Doyle would be less enthusiastic over Enola’s relationship to his Great Detective and her contribution to the ongoing mythos, or to the fact she is female. Either way, Springer has delivered an original character and world steeped in history, social contradictions, and breakneck adventure.
Enola has successfully set herself up under another name as a secretary to a Perditorian (a finder of persons and things, quite similar to Sherlock Holmes). Interestingly enough, Enola becomes quite sympathetic about the disappearance of young Lady Cecily. This case is one of the few that Sherlock Holmes has turned down. Also interesting, the person that brings the case to Enola’s attention is none other than Dr. John Watson. As everyone knows, Dr. Watson is Sherlock’s constant companion and confidant.
I couldn’t help feeling just a little bit anxious over Enola’s meeting with Watson. Watson was never the observer and detective that Sherlock was and served more as a raconteur of the investigations, but he was no fool either. I kept waiting on the edge of my seat for Watson to point at our young heroine and yell, “A-ha! The game is afoot!”
Instead, he was there to hire her fictional employer to find herself. Sherlock is working himself into a state over his sister’s disappearance. Enola becomes torn when she hears how much her brother is worried over her. I love the fact that Enola worries about her brothers even though she’s not had much chance to be close to them. One of the things that Enola most wants is family. She never had much of a growing up because her brothers are so much older than she is. Then there’s the matter of the mysterious disappearance of her mother, which first set her on the run from her brothers’ efforts to put her in a young ladies school.
With that threat hanging over her head, she can’t turn to Sherlock or Mycroft. Even Watson is off limits. Above family, she treasures her freedom and independence.
I have to admit to a little trouble with all the codes that passed back and forth in the book. I like cryptography, and Springer’s seemed really cool, but it was so obtuse that I think younger readers might have trouble grasping it. I struggled with it myself. And it was real stretch to think that even Sherlock Holmes would have tumbled to the code.
The author excels dramatically during the action scenes set in London’s darker and more dangerous corners. The attempted garroting in the book’s earlier sections is breathtaking, no pun intended. I love the look and feel of Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London, and Springer kept me there with her young heroine throughout the novel.
The twists and turns of the plot, even the real identity of the criminal mastermind, threw me at times and seemed a little farfetched. However, Enola’s latest adventure is a colorful romp that allows her to thumb her nose at the Great Detective’s skills of observation and deduction. Even though I don’t want to believe Sherlock could ever be fooled, if anyone could do it, it would be Enola Holmes.
These books are great additions for Sherlock Holmes fans, as well as for young minds interested in mysteries and historic settings filled with danger and action.