Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
by Nancy Springer
Recommended Ages: 12+

Enola Holmes is a woman ahead of her time in Victorian London, the winter of 1889. In fact, she's an unsupervised minor – a 14-year-old girl masquerading as an adult so she doesn't have to attend the ladies' finishing school her brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, want to send her to. Being forced into corsets and fattened up for the marriage market seems, to her, a fate worse than death. So, instead, she lives under a trio of assumed identities and looks out for herself. Between alternately pretending to be the secretary and the wife of a non-existent "scientific perditorian" (finder of lost persons and things), she sometimes dons a nun's habit and a veil and prowls the streets, doing good to the poor.

But lately, eluding the improving attentions of her too-clever-by-half brothers has become the least of her worries. For starters, someone tries to strangle her one night with a garotte made from a corset strap. For another, she's investigating the disappearance of a young lady that looks, at first blush, like the girl eloped with her young man. Only, the further Enola looks into it, the more it looks like something entirely different happened. What that might be continues to puzzle her until the clues finally lead her to discover a monster of literally mesmerizing power.

Sherlock Holmes' kid sister proves to be the cleverer of the two in this adventure. She cuts a lonely figure, alienated from her family, determined to escape the confines of the role society expects of her, determined to be independent yet at the same time longing for companionship. Her emotional turmoil makes a powerful addition to the progressive politics in which author Springer steeps her distinctive brew of Holmesian mystery – dramatizing not only women's rights but even some of the socialist workers' movement of that era. Psychological and spiritualistic mumbo-jumbo comes in for a drubbing, but the real kicker is the wickedness of a kidnapper and would-be killer whose stock-in-trade is robbing his victim of her very self. It's a chilling gloss on the Holmes canon, maybe on the mature side for young kids but definitely something for them to think about and discuss.

This is the second of six, going on seven, Enola Holmes books; the latest, Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, is supposed to be released Aug. 31, 2021. Nancy Springer's writing career stretches back to the 1970s and includes five "Book of the Isle" novels, the "Sea King" trilogy, a couple of Camelot tales, five "Rowan Hood" books, somewhere around 33 other novels and three short story collections, divided by genre into fantasy, mystery and "literature." Some of her standalone titles include The Hex Witch of Seldom, Red Wizard, Damnbanna, The Blind God Is Watching, Metal Angel, Sky Rider, Drawn Into Darkness and The Oddling Prince, besides the award-winning books Larque on the Wing, Toughing It and Looking for Jamie Bridger.

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