by Melanie Heuiser Hill
The summer’s roadtrip is behind us — a wonderful vacation had by all. We were in two cars this year due to different destinations at the start, but we met up for the second half of the week.
The car my daughter and I drove was equipped with several audiobooks. The boys neglected this detail, probably because they were packing for survival in the wilderness. I have no idea what they listened to while in the car — each other, podcasts, music etc., I guess. We asked the question, but hardly listened, I’m afraid, so eager were we to fill them in on what we had listened to….
…which was a trio of glorious Enola Holmes mysteries! We’d all listened to the first, The Case of the Missing Marquess, a summer or two ago. The kids are huge Sherlock fans, and so these mysteries featuring a much younger sister of that famous detective were a no brainer for a long trip that took us into the mountains. We agreed after that first book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s got nuthin’ on Nancy Springer. And now that some of us have listened to a couple more books of Springer’s series — well, let’s say this: Stand Down, Sherlock. Enola Can Do It All—And In a Corset!
Enola Holmes (please notice what her first name spells backwards) is but fourteen years old and living on her own, having run away from her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, after her mother ran off on Enola’s fourteenth birthday. And she’s getting along quite well, thank you, without her brilliant (yet terribly chauvinistic/misogynistic) brothers. In each book, Enola is solving a mystery — even overlapping with Sherlock in some cases — and eluding villains, scallywags, and her brothers as the needs arise.
The historic detail is fascinating — especially the detail on the subject of corsets and other “unmentionables.” The corset becomes a symbol of all that Enola (and her mother, for that matter) rejects — namely, the myriad of confines that Victorian society placed on women. But she wears one! Not just any corset, of course. Her scrawny fourteen year old body doesn’t need the “support,” and she flat-out rejects the not-unlike-foot-binding purposes of early corset wearing (these details are harrowing). But as a vehicle — yes, you read right — for her many disguises and tools, her very individually designed corset is an important part of how she makes her way in London as a detective instead of a runaway fourteen year old girl. Enola’s corset offers physical protection and storage — in it she carries a dagger, various disguises, money, clues, bandages, food and supplies — while allowing her to change her shape as needed. Her disguises are as varied as the fascinating characters she meets.
Enola is feisty and outspoken, wicked smart and wise beyond her years. The mysteries she solves are full of intrigue, puzzles, and curious clues. And the audiobooks are performed by none other than Katherine Kellgren, one of our very favorite readers. These stories are wonderful in black and white on the page, but Kellgren brings them to life! As she does in reading the Bloody Jack series, each character receives their own voice. If you read about Kellgren’s preparation you’ll see that she works with dialect coach — I dare say that Professor Henry Higgins would be able to place each character on the very street on which they were born.
Although the mysteries do not have to be read in order, it’s good to read The Case of the Missing Marquess first because it sets up the ungirding mystery of Enola’s mother. Each mystery references previous ones and as we end come closer to the end of the series (I hope more are being written!) that seems to be important, as well.
Read them, listen to them — they’re delightful either way. These receive a hardy recommendation from our house to yours as beautifully spanning a significant sibling age-range in the car. You can’t help but fall into the story. We only made it half-way through the third mystery before we were home, but we’ll start again with our boys on our upcoming road trip. What were we thinking listening to such great books without them?