Book Review: Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer

Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade features Sherlock's much younger and feistier sister in an adventure of a confused young Baronet's daughter on the run from her father's devious schemes. Check out Doreen Sheridan's review!

Now that Enola Holmes has reconciled with her overbearing older brothers Mycroft and Sherlock (yes, that Sherlock,) she has settled into a relatively respectable life as the youngest boarder at the Professional Women’s Club. Enola spends her days taking classes at the London Women’s Academy and attempting to get to know her brothers better now that they’ve acknowledged her as something more than a feminine nuisance to be shipped off to finishing school at their earliest convenience. 

Even so, her heart yearns for a friend her own age. With that in mind, she goes calling on Lady Cecily Alistair, whom she helped recover in her role as a perditionist—i.e., a finder of lost things—as chronicled in the second book of this series, The Case Of The Left-Handed Lady. To Enola’s dismay, she is turned away at the door. The butler informs her that neither Cecily nor her mother Lady Theodora are allowed to receive any guests, under orders from her father, Lord Eustace Alistair. 

Enola hadn’t been thrilled that Theodora had decided to return to her odious husband after prior events in the series, but knows that financial independence is hard to come by for married women in Victorian England, and especially for ones with eight children to provide for. Still, being denied any callers whatsoever is beyond the pale, and a topic of hot conversation amongst the boarders of the Professional Women’s Club when they hear the news, though some of their gossip goes over even Enola’s precocious head:

The advice columnist chose to summarize. “Sir Eustace Alistair is a dreadful domestic tyrant. Lady Theodora should have left him long ago, before she bore him so many children.”

 

“One of us should have slipped her a diaphragm,” remarked Lady Vienna.

 

I had no idea what this meant, and other women cast shocked glances, so I did not ask.

Determined to at least speak to her friend and ascertain what’s going on, Enola makes a midnight foray to the Alistair residence that results in Cecily fleeing the premises with her. Eustace has been keeping his eldest daughter a virtual prisoner, depriving her of books and art and even all clothing except for a nightgown, this last in an effort to prevent her from running away. He intends to marry her off to someone rich and not otherwise discerning as quickly as possible. Theodora is his prisoner as well, lest she assist her daughter in the latter’s ongoing rebellion.

While Enola and Cecily are trying to figure out what to do next, Sherlock arrives in search of the runaway heiress. Cecily bolts, leaving only a cryptic clue behind for Enola to decipher as to her destination. Enola immediately fears for her friend, who suffers from a psychological issue that can instantly and unexpectedly turn the brave, confident young woman into someone meek and helpless. While left-handed Cecily is more than capable of taking care of herself, right-handed Cecily is vulnerable to any person of ill will on London’s mean streets.

Thus Enola must reluctantly team up with her brother in order to recover Cecily, even as she begs him for assistance in deterring Eustace from a continuing course of tyranny. Sherlock, however, is slow to see things from her perspective. Very well then, Enola decides. If she can’t persuade Sherlock to help her find justice for Cecily, then she’s just going to have to do it herself.

This was another charming installment in the Enola Holmes mystery series, as our equal parts sweet and intrepid heroine finds herself mired in unexpectedly sticky situations while trying to save her best friend. Sherlock is both helpful and exasperating, hewing closely to his portrayal in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon:

Due to his stork-like qualities, especially when wearing his top hat, it was not hard to locate Sherlock Holmes. However, it was rather more difficult to get him to notice me. Fluttering a handkerchief at him only made him look away and lengthen his stride to escape what appeared to be an attractive female on the hunt. Only by deserting my dignity and trotting after him did I catch him–with my gloved hand on his arm. “Sherlock!”

It’s always a pleasure to revisit Sherlock’s London through the eyes of his younger sister, who adds a much needed feminine perspective to the milieu as she ponders issues of women’s rights that her older brother has the privilege of never having to worry about. The period language is used to excellent, often comedic effect, as Enola navigates the city in the course of trying to find Cecily before Sherlock does. And while the two butt heads over what to do about Eustace, the ending is truly satisfying for anyone who enjoys this series and general Sherlockiana, as I do.

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