Friday, June 10, 2011

Reconciled: The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye (An Enola Holmes Mystery) by Nancy Springer

Stuffing the skytale into my bosom, "I shall send word!" I called over my shoulder as I darted out of the house and ran for all I was worth, hearing Sherlock's footfalls coming in behind me--but in the instant I reached the street, I whistled shrilly in a most unfeminine manner and a passing cab pulled up short. I leapt in and signalled the cabbie to drive on. I sat in full view of my brother as I drove away. I looked over my shoulder to see him about twenty feet behind me, breathing hard and looking fulminous.

He would be after me directly. I needed a hiding place--but also I urgently needed to reach the East End. Desperately I needed to disguise myself as I had never disguised myself before.

What's better for summertime reading that a good mystery, and Nancy Springer's latest installment in the Enola Holmes Mysteries, The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye: An Enola Holmes Mystery (Philomel, 2010) is a rip-roaring doozy of a detective tale. Enola Holmes, the runaway fourteen-year-old sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, finds herself dodging both seamy London criminals, the abductors of a beauteous and fragile noblewoman, and her two older brothers, still bent on nabbing Enola and stashing her away in a proper finishing boarding school for "young ladies." Enola, however, has other plans for her life, and since her mother Eudora abandoned her on her fourteenth birthday, she has lived by her wits in London and built a prosperous reputation herself as an investigator, disguised as the "personal assistant" of her fictional cover employer, Dr. Ragostin, Scientific Perditorian.

But when she takes on the case of the missing Blanchefleur, Duquessa Del Campo, apparently kidnapped as she assisted a beggarly old woman down into the London Underground, Enola finds herself in competition with the famous Sherlock himself, also summoned on the case. Disguised in fine clothes, expensive wig, and a fetching bonnet to begin her interrogation of the Duquessa's ladies-in-waiting, Enola barely avoids a face-to-face encounter with her brilliant brother only through her own quick wits. But when her true identity is revealed by the Holmes family's loyal collie, Reginald, for whom wigs and frippery are no impediment to recognition, Enola has to resort to a quick departure to escape what she considers capture and corseted captivity in that young ladies' academy by the well-meaning Sherlock and Mycroft.

Parallel and interwoven with the investigation of the Duquessa's disappearance, however, is another mystery--one closely involved with the strong theme of female self-realization which runs through the Enola series. Sherlock has another reason for finding Enola, to deliver an envelope addressed to her, inscribed with strange markings and Gypsy hex symbols,. This missive indeed turns out to be a cryptic and poignant message from Enola's mother, revealing to the reader that despite, and perhaps because of her mother's seemingly indifferent parenting, Enola is very much her mother's daughter, able to operate as an independent woman in what is the still repressive society for her gender.

Indeed, as she cooperates with Sherlock in the solving of the De Campo mystery and they share the decoding of the letter from their mother, there is a meeting of minds and a reconciliation between the long-separated Holmes siblings, one that gives some reviewers hope that this series, with its engaging setting in Victorian London's gas-lit cobbled streets, dark sewers, elegant drawing rooms, squalid back-streets, and its brilliant, self-reliant young heroine, will continue with more Sherlockian adventures.

As School Library Journal's reviewer says, "In this brilliantly written emotional tale, children will appreciate Enola's self-discovery on the importance of family and her determination to find her true fate."

And American Library Association's Booklist strongly concurs: "The series that features Enola Holmes, the (much) younger sister of Sherlock, continues to be flat-out among the best mysteries being written for young people today." (Starred Review)

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