Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If Sherlock Holmes were a woman. And 14.

In my efforts to act as my own English professor and make myself read important, classic works this summer, I've fried my brains out just a little. Fortunately, I have found some delicious balm for my poor, Renaissance-addled mind, and that is the Enola Holmes mystery series.

Yes, Holmes.

I cannot confess to be a die-hard Sherlockian – I even found the trailer for the upcoming Guy Ritchie adaptation to be interesting, which I am told is blasphemy. However, I do own the complete collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, have read a few pastiches, and love watching television and film adaptations. As far as book pastiches go, I have found this series to be as great a read as The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which I love.

This series, written by Nancy Springer alleges to be for the 9-12 year old set. Haha! Certainly young'uns of that age group may read and enjoy the series, but the reading level actually seems a bit higher to me – given the amount of meaty words, intelligent prose, and mature themes carefully brought up so as to pass younger readers by without notice. The story itself could easily appeal to a range of ages. The books follow the adventures of Enola Holmes, the 14 year old sister of Sherlock Holmes. When her mother disappears suddenly and mysteriously from their home in the country, Enola finds herself booking to London and hiding from her eldest brother Mycroft's devious plans (sending her to boarding school) and the younger Holmes brother as well. On wits and a little cash alone, she manages wonderfully and also starts solving crimes that even Sherlock Holmes can't solve.

The most pleasing aspect of the series is Enola herself. She is a strong character – intelligent, clever, charming, sneaky, and innovative. Her weaknesses stem from being a 14 year old, not a helpless girl in the Victorian age and and this distinction makes her a plucky and fun role model. She seems to have all of the Holmesian detective skills with the added benefit of of a more sympathetic mindset allowing her to achieve more in ways her brothers cannot. Her success at solving crimes that elude her brothers has much to do with her extended knowledge of the female world, something Sherlock Holmes obviously lacks, and consistently derides in the series. This weakness is exploited in the Holmes men again and again with laugh-worthy telling results. This lack of knowledge on the part of Victorian men makes the situation of Victorian women and their positive attributes shine. The books manage to be very true to the Doyle canon, incorporate this new character and her antics, and turn out a charming result. Sherlock Holmes is recognizably Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes is hilariously made an almost-villain in the eyes of his sister, and the world they all inhabit is both fresh and nostalgic.

Enola's adventures take her through all parts of Victorian London – from Savile Row to the East End docks. I learned more about the era reading these books than searching fifty webpages – each disguise Enola dons, from Lady to beggar is carefully described and their purpose and role in society explained. Etiquette, laws, morals, society at large are simply and interestingly explained. This most likely was to easily inform the young reader, but it helped this old lady immensely. Enola explains for the reader which colors of sealing wax signify what, what the first indoor toilets in London were like, how to tell a gentlemen from a gent, and other good things to know if you have a time machine or Steampunk meetup to go to.

These lovely books are quick reads for the adult or teen reader, and just difficult enough to be educational and worthwhile for the younger set. Like most books, they are on – I was able to find them in my local library, but will end up ordering them used because they are that damn good.

I made it all the way through without a 'No shit, Sherlock” joke. Aren't you proud?

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