Wait… That Book Was Good! Flashback 2006: Enola Holmes
Folks, I’ve been blogging since I was a wee bit of a thing, dating back to 2006. Back then I was still a relatively new children’s librarian, eking out a living in New York City. I didn’t know much, but I knew when a book was good. Extraordinary even.
Today we’re going to try out a new series. Jump into the wayback machine with me, and let’s revisit books that came out more than a decade ago, that were stellar at the time. Does anyone remember them today? Do kids still find them in libraries? Bookstores?
To kick everything off, I figured I’d start with an old favorite. You see, earlier this evening I was pondering the puzzle that is the show Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I was thinking about the depiction of Holmes and his brother and . . . other family members. And this reminded me that in 2006 author Nancy Spring penned a peppy little mystery series that should have gotten more attention. The premise was that Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft had a highly intelligent, and much younger, little sister that they ignored entirely. Desperate to prove herself (and get away from her brothers’ plans for her) she runs away, starts her own detective agency, and eludes Sherlock at every turn. Oh. And solves mysteries too.
When the series first debuted the cover looked like this:
Then they decided for the paperback to jazz things up a little, so it looked like this.
So how’s it doing these days? Pretty darn well! It’s still in print, which indicates to me that there must be a core group of librarians out there, keeping it on their shelves, hand-selling it to the mystery readers out there (particularly the young ones that probably shouldn’t be watching Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, do anyway, and want something to read that’s like that).
Now here’s a shot of what Baker & Taylor’s demand for the title currently looks like:
It’s not breaking the bank but it’s showing steady sales.
At some point, the folks at Penguin Random House must have figured this out because they farmed out a graphic novel adaptation to IDW Publishing and artist Serena Blasco. Though I only heard about it because I was looking the book up on Baker & Taylor, apparently back in November of 2018 a comic book version of the first book in the series came out looking like this . . .
. . . with the second book slated for publication in July of this year.
Weirdly, the first book, though available for sale, was kept on the down low. They also inexplicably marketed it as YA, though the contents are as middle grade as they come. It doesn’t look like they submitted it for any professional reviews and I’m just baffled how people heard about it. One answer might be that fellow SLJ blog Good Comics for Kids reviewed it on their site. Just goes to show that I need to be reading my fellow bloggers a little more regularly.
In the end, the good news is that this series continues to live, thrive, and survive in all new ways. And so, as a tip of the hat to the book that kicked it all off, here’s my original review from back in ’06 of the book in all its kooky glory:
There’s a real sense of relief that comes with reading a book that knows what it wants to do and then goes out and accomplishes it. Take Ms. Nancy Springer. Having given us some insight into Robin Hood’s daughter (“Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest”), as well as that notorious King Arthur villainess (“I Am Morgan le Fay”), Springer turns her attention to a friend of her youth. According to this book, the author grew up with the “Complete Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”. It was as a kid that she would be, “reading and rereading them over a period of years until she could find no more Sherlock Holmes stories to memorize”. But rather than do as so many have done and continue Holmes’ adventures (or, in some cases, that of his lady love Irene Adler) Springer had a better idea. Anyone who has read Doyle at any length knows that Holmes had a brother Mycroft (upon whom Rex Stout’s character of Nero Wolfe was partly based). But what about a sister? Holmes undoubtedly wouldn’t have mentioned her to Watson and if she had any of the great detective’s smarts her story would be a truly interesting tale to tell. With that thought in mind we come to “The Case of the Missing Marquess”. A good old-fashioned mystery alongside an understanding of the role women were meant to play back in the 1800s, the book is fast-paced, truly enjoyable, and a great read for one and all.
When Enola Holmes’s mother disappears without a trace on the day of her birthday, her daughter doesn’t fret too much. Her mother often wanders off on her own. She’s a singularly single-minded woman, after all, and has raised Enola to be the same. But when it becomes clear, however, that Lady Eudoria Vernet Holmes is not coming back, Enola has no choice but to contact her two elder brothers: Mycroft and Sherlock. The men had not been home in years, owing partly to a fight they had had with the now missing Lady. Upon their return they are shocked at the state of things and Mycroft in particular becomes intent upon bending his stubborn little sister to his will. Enola has other plans in mind, however, and in no time she concocts a plan on escaping the rigid role both her brothers and society have assigned her. Along her journey she also gets wrapped up in the case of a missing heir to a Duke and finds herself thoroughly ensconced in the slimy backwaters of London’s foulest dens. But if anyone’s up to the task of battling villains and saving young heirs, it’s a girl with the last name of Holmes.
As a children’s librarian I hear no end of demands from stubborn young `uns for an unceasing and steady supply of mystery fiction. Kids love a good mystery, be it the fabulous “Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin or the tepid “Chasing Vermeer” by Blue Balliett. In spite of the demand, very few quality works of fiction fulfill this need. You could close your eyes, spin around in the children’s room of a library or bookstore, and end up pointing at one of the five million mystery series out there, but GOOD ones are as rare as rubies. All the more reason why this book (hopefully only the first of more to come) will be greatly appreciated by kids of many persuasions.
Because you see, the writing is key. Though the book spends half its time getting Enola on the road, you don’t feel that it ever goes any faster or slower than it should. Enola is not only engaging (she points out to Mycroft that the chances of marrying her off are probably fairly slim since, “I look just like Sherlock”), but also on top of things. She is very touched by her mother’s disappearance but when it becomes clear that she is truly on her own, she rallies admirably. She even eschews the usual girl-dressing-up-like-a-boy conceit (OVERDONE conceit, I add) because she knows that if she is to hide from Sherlock she must do what he doesn’t expect. That makes for especially good disguises on her part. Ones that make sense too. And there are plenty of ciphers, codes, clues, and neat twists to keep the book interesting for both kids and adults alike. I was delighted to find on more than one occasion that the book would surprise me with a twist that, had I been looking for it, I should have discovered on my own. I cannot quite figure out if the hidden numbers and letters on the cover of “The Case of the Missing Marquess” are a code, but I’m certain that enterprising youth everywhere will try to figure it out on their own.
There is a small problem with the essential conceit behind this book, of course. I mean, it starts off with a woman abandoning her daughter so that she herself can lead her own carefree life without worrying about a child. Say what you will about the difficulties faced back in the day, it’s very hard to justify a mother leaving her kid without so much as a card or hug. Enola tries to come up with several justifications for her mom’s actions, but when you get right down to it, it’s a nasty thing to do. She definitely could have taken Enola along with her. It just would have made for an entirely different story, and not one that Ms. Springer particularly wanted to tell.
All in all, Enola Holmes and her book make for a difficult-to-resist pairing. I’ve little doubt that kids will be clamoring for the next installment in the series and that this is only the beginning. A great combination of humor, history, and contemporary good sense. An excellent addition to any collection.
Filed under: Wait That Was Good!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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