31 May 2010

Rave Review: The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye by Nancy Springer

With the popularity of series fiction at an all-time high for elementary and middle grade readers, I often will read the first title of any series that is popular or promising. Dipping my toe in this manner allows me the chance to booktalk the series with a reasonable amount of competency and enthusiasm. But  with some series, I'm in it for the long haul. The Enola Holmes Mysteries is one such series. Starting with The Case of the Missing Marquess, where we meet Enola for the first time, to this final volume (yes--final!) I have followed her attempts to stay two steps ahead of her older brothers (one of whom happens to be a guy named Sherlock) as well as discover any information about her mother, a free spirited Suffragette who vanished on Enola's fourteenth birthday and sporadically communicates through the personals of the London dailies.

Let's just start by saying that these mysteries are wildly unrealistic. However, I don't think they stretch belief any more than the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, so it's a level playing field. The premise is fairly straightforward: Enola is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. When her mother disappears, the brothers decide that their sister--who has far too much of her mother's personality--needs to attend a proper finishing school to become a proper young lady. Unbeknownst to the brothers, their mother has left Enola a sizable amount of money, with which she scarpers off to London and sets herself up as the secretary of one Doctor Ragostin, a fictional Scientific Perditorain, who specializes in locating the lost. Working within these Remington Steele parameters, with a myriad of disguises, street-smarts, and wisdom beyind her years, Enola solves crimes and finds missing people, all the while waiting until she reaches the age of her majority and is legally free from the guardianship of her brothers.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of these books has been their use of codes. Enola's name is itself a code--it is 'alone' spelled backwards, and it is a moniker which sometimes weighs heavy upon the girl. Flowers and fans were tools that Victorian women used to communicate, often beneath the radars of men. When Enola and her mother communicate through the papers they reference specific flowers to represent people and feelings. It is Sherlock's inability to grasp the nuance of this code which prevents him on at least one occasion of catching Enola, who easily spots his mistake.

The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye neatly pulls together all of the plot-lines which have been developed over the course of the books: Sherlock and Mycroft's attempts to locate Enola and send her to school, Enola's search for her mother and affirmation of whether her mother cared for her, Enola's quest for independence, and one final code to crack--the scytale which Lady Holmes has sent to her daughter. There is also a missing person to find: the unearthly beauty, Lady Blanchefleur del Campo has disappeared without a trace, and both Sherlock Holmes and "Doctor Ragostin" are trying to locate her. It is a mystery that requires a feminine touch, as Enola ably proves to her revered brother.

I am sorry to see the last of Enola Holmes. As Sherlock himself says, "I have become quite addicted to [her]." I have had great fun visiting her Victorian London, watching her outwit her brothers, and trying my hand at cracking the codes myself (always falling short, I might add.) This is a spin-off series that really worked.

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