Until I saw the trailer for the Netflix film Enola Holmes I had entirely forgotten about this teen sleuth which is fitting because in the 2006 book The Case of the Missing Marquess, she is quite sure that she has been entirely forgotten by her two famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft.
The day after their mother goes missing, Enola rides her bicycle to the train station to her brothers and considers what she has to offer the esteemed detective and the influential man with a role in government. Her sad list includes the ability to read, write, do sums, find birds’ nests, catch fish and dig for worms. Fourteen years old, having lived alone with her mother and the servants on their estate for over a decade, Enola is strong-willed, clever and favours her brother Sherlock in many ways (and is the perfect person to find a ‘missing marquess’) but not at all ready for a reunion with two brothers who haven’t visited the family estate since the death of their father.
Author Nancy Springer has successfully done what so many authors have done with the Sherlock canon – created her own story and remained firmly in the time period, keeping Sherlock aloof and formal when he sees Enola for the first time in ten years. Although they are reunited over the disappearance of their mother, he reminds her that she should dress as a ‘young lady’. No brotherly coddling or mention of how she might be feeling. When Enola realizes that her brothers believe that their mother might have disappeared by choice (and that Mycroft will be sending her to boarding school so that she can learn to dress in a corset and eventually move in ‘polite society’ ) Enola decides that it is time to join her mother and avoid this fate.
A lifetime of having her mother encourage her to be independent and listen to her instincts has made Enola more than ready for the challenge of leaving their village, deceiving her brothers. She crafts a clever plan to prepare for her escape – using some of the tools that her mother used in her own departure – and heads to London in an attempt to find the marquess. The first steps of her journey include Enola assisting in an investigation of her own which gives her confidence and provides some insight into her inquisitive personality. She meets Inspector Lestrade as he searches for a missing twelve-year old Viscount Tewksbury from Basilweather Hall, providing him with vital information in the case and eluding her detective brother at the same time.
Despite her initial doubt, Enola solves clues left by her mother, creates clever disguises and outsmarts several criminals, proving that she is much more able than she first thought. In the final chapter, she reflects upon what she has accomplished and realizes that she noticed things that Sherlock missed because she has skills and abilities he cannot ever hope to learn because she is a woman. She reassures herself that any supplies of knowledge that she is lacking will be easily secured. Perhaps she has more to offer than catching fish and digging for worms. Enola hasn’t yet found her mother but knows that she is on the right track and is perfectly situated for satisfying sequels like The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline (she meets Florence Nightingale!).
Serious Sherlock fans might point out that Conan Doyle never wrote of his sister, he barely spoke of Mycroft, and gave very little detail of the Holmes family – John Watson writes of this – but if he had a younger sister, Enola would have been a worthy candidate. She is a careful thinker and, like her detective brother, capable of considering every angle of a problem. Enola is resourceful, brave, and a delight to spend the afternoon with – as Nancy Springer wrote of her in the original books or in the gorgeous graphic novels based on her stories. You will be so pleased to meet Enola Holmes.
— Penny M.