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Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess

Authored by Nancy Springer
Published by Oxford University Press

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The Case of the Missing Marquess is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. This historical adventure set mainly in Victorian London successfully combines clues, disguises and sinister villains with an exploration of the attitude towards women at that time.

On her 14th birthday Enola Holmes is not too upset at first when her artistic and slightly absent minded mother does not return home for her birthday celebrations. However, when Enola wakes the following morning to discover that her mother is still absent she has no alternative other than to report her missing and to reluctantly contact her elder brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. The arrival of these two men disrupts things still further for Enola as they are horrified to learn that they have been misled about the situation at the family home and their sister has not been educated by a governess as they believed and the house and grounds have fallen into a state of disrepair. They decide that Enola must go to boarding school whilst they resolve the mystery of their mother’s disappearance. Enola shows her spirit and resourcefulness by taking matters into her own hands and runs away, aided by the solving of the secret coded messages left for her by her missing mother. 

Set in the late 19th century and written in a style reminiscent of that era creating a period feel and with vivid descriptions of the various settings in which the story takes place this story has a strong sense of both time and place. Enola herself is intelligent and independent but, lacking in experience and not without fear, she is also apt to make mistakes and this makes her a relatable character to young readers.  Although Enola has led a sheltered life she has a positive approach to the problems that are thrown at her. When her two, much older, brothers arrive they display a dismissive attitude to women, and in particular towards Enola and her mother. The manner in which the young girl uses some of the tools that limit women in many ways to her own advantage is resourceful. The fashions of the time, the corsets and the bustles, the veiling of the face and the heavy mourning clothing are all utilised to help her in her quest. Once embarked on her journey Enola becomes involved in another disappearance, that of the 12 year old Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilweather. It is then that Enola’s bravery is put to the test in an exciting fashion. 

The subject matter would be a useful prompt for discussion in both the classroom and book groups about the attitudes towards and treatment of women in Victorian England and how this led to the Suffrage moment. The story itself successfully sets the scene for the subsequent series and Enola is an appealing character developing as the plot continues. Mysteries, especially those that a reader can follow in a series, have long been popular and this fits well into that gap between middle grade and YA fiction.