Sweet god, how I love these books! Sorry. That’s not something a professional reviewer should start off by saying is it? I should probably be coy about my opinions. I should couch my language with faint praise saying sniffy little things like, “It seems that Ms. Springer has truly found an oeuvre that will suit some out there”. My review would nod its head at her other books and series and then end with constructive criticism along the lines of, “Certainly children in search of mysteries will have no problems with Ms. Springer’s popular choices.” Well, forget it. I can’t be all detached and restrained when I’m talking about Enola Holmes. The fact of the matter is that I can’t get enough of her. From the minute I read her first story The Case of the Missing Marquess, I was hooked. Now we’re on Enola’s third caper, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, and things are heating up. Whether you’ve been reading these books faithfully from the start, or have just dropped into this series without seeing its predecessors, this is one Enola Holmes mystery that is bound to mystify, confound, and delight.
A lot has changed for Enola Holmes in the last few months, but one thing certainly hasn’t. She’s still on the run from her older brothers Mycroft and Sherlock and she still needs to keep them at bay until she comes of age and can legally live on her own. Of course there’s the small problem that she’s been making her living by posing as the secretary of a detective, but now her cover’s been blown and she needs to figure out what to do with herself. Top it all off with her sudden fear that her mother doesn’t love her and Enola’s in a pretty deep funk. Deliverance comes in the form of Dr. Watson. Or rather, the lack of Dr. Watson. Someone has kidnapped Sherlock Holmes’ right-hand man, and Enola immediately is on the case. Her newest disguise? She’ll become something her brothers would never expect her to be. She’ll become beautiful. Armed with a pretty face, a knowledge of The Language of the Flowers, and her own common sense, Enola sets out to find the good doctor and maybe figure out some things about her own life along the way.
I think that it was the School Library Journal review of one of Enola’s books that pointed out that it is Enola’s loneliness combined with her, “intelligence, sense of humor, and sheer pluck,” that makes her such an appealing character. That’s very insightful. Though she may try to hide it behind make-up and wigs, Enola is essentially a lonely person. She hasn’t a confidant in the world, and this weighs on her. She doesn’t even entirely realize it either. Fortunately, this isn’t a teenager prone to sulks. The combination of code breaking, multiple clues, and a straightforward if intriguing mystery makes this a particularly delightful read. Plus I just love the sense of a larger story arc present in this series. There’s some ultimate resolution on the horizon. Some grand view of this tale that will resolve Enola’s essential loneliness and heal the rift between her and Sherlock. It’ll probably bring her closer to her mother as well, perhaps. I don’t know. All we can do is keep reading to find out.
These books work as well as they do partly because just as Enola is thwarting her time period’s conventions, so too is Nancy Springer thwarting her genre’s. Any other author out there would have dressed Enola up as a boy first thing and probably would have done the same in all her subsequent novels. This is a kind of laziness on an author’s part. I’m sorry, but if you’re writing a historical novel, fantasy or straight fiction, and your heroine needs a disguise, somehow the act of pulling on a pair of trousers instantly makes her into ideal boy material. It’s an easy out for an author, requiring little thought on their part. This is why I love Nancy Springer. In this book, Enola says that when she first ran away from home her brothers, “had quite expected to find me disguised as a boy; to their way of thinking, how else could such an unfortunately plain female possibly manage?” So does she finally cave in and put on some pants? No sir! Instead she goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction and becomes utterly lovely. It’s the last thing anyone would expect, particularly the reader, and serves as a stroke of genius on the author’s part. Bravo.
Little spoiler alert in this paragraph: There is the matter of the villain of this piece engaging in a bit of (to quote Sherlock Holmes) “George Sandism”. So the fear might be that this is a negative reflection of lesbians or cross-dressers, but I think Springer’s cleverer than that. The bad guy in this book is evil because of what they do, and that has no connection to their preference for pants. Something to watch out for though.
When girls come into my library looking for good mysteries along the lines of Nancy Drew, the pickings are sometimes slimmer than you’d expect. There are the Wendelin Van Draanen stories about Sammy Keyes. There’s good old Trixie Belden (who was the preferred sleuth of my childhood). And now there is Enola Holmes, who seems to have more wit, sense, and skills than any other sleuthy heroine I’ve run across in an age. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets is a strong addition to a great series and it is the best Sherlock Holmes series for kids I’ve ever been lucky enough to read.
On shelves January 31st.
Notes on the Cover: It took me a little while, but I was eventually able to determine (by getting it wrong the first time) that the illustrator of the Enola Holmes books may be one Peter Ferguson. Peter Ferguson is a clever man. The books tell us consistently that Enola is an unattractive girl (it’s from her own point of view, but she’s too sensible to be mopey about it) and that she resembles her brother Sherlock Holmes too much. Ferguson has always given her a faintly hawkish air. This image is less unattractive that the first in the series, but it serves its purpose. I was particularly fond of the view of the greenhouse nearby. It’s always nice when the cover artist has actually read the book, don’t you think?