I’m not a huge murder mystery fan, but I love the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I’ve reread them all recently. Sherlock Holmes stories by others, often called “pastiches,” have been around for a long time in book form as well as film and TV. Some I’ve enjoyed, but I haven’t read many of those books. Recently I did read and very much enjoy the Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer, which I thought were original and creative new takes on the world of Sherlock that managed to remain true to the source. I saw this series recently, and thought I’d try the first one.
In the book, Holmes is in a sorry state, having fallen into depression and cocaine use after disastrous involvement with the Jack the Ripper case. His friend Dr. Watson tries to help him, but only a letter from a French singer begging his help to find her missing son is enough to get Sherlock back on his feet. The two travel to Paris to consult cabaret singer Emmeline La Victoire and learn her missing son’s father is one of the most powerful men in England, the Earl of Pellingham, and her son knows nothing of his true mother. While attending one of La Victoire’s shows, Holmes and Watson are accosted by a gang of cutthroats trying to remove them from the case permanently, which makes them all the more keen. Another case seems to be connected, a priceless Roman statue has been stolen, and Lord Pellingham, a devoted art collector, may be behind it.
Eventually Holmes and Watson arrive at Lord Pellingham’s Lancashire estate under false identities, with Holmes as a well-known art critic anxious to view Pellingham’s collection. A third mystery has surfaced at one of Pellingham’s factories, the murders of several young boys working there, and Holmes feels all these crimes can be laid at the feet of Lord Pellingham. With some help from his brother Mycroft, the missing child is found, but everyone in the process is in great danger, and more murders soon follow as Holmes tries to unravel all three mysteries.
My feeling about this book and series is that it strays too far from the Conan Doyle work in several ways that bothered me. First, by expanding what Doyle might have written as a short story into a lengthy novel, narrated by Dr. Watson but also at times by Holmes himself, we look too far into the minds and thoughts of those characters. Second, Holmes makes too many mistakes, and puts others in danger too often. A little of that goes a long way. Third, some of the subject matter seems too modern in style and approach for a Victorian story. Yes, just as horrible crimes happened then I’m sure, but the psychology of them and the most awful facts don’t fit well here.
I think one reason the Enola Holmes stories worked for me is because author Nancy Springer made a previously unknown character, Sherlock’s much younger sister, the main character and narrator. Holmes and Watson appear in the books, but usually as seen through Enola’s eyes, which gives them the kind of distance found in the Doyle stories. I don’t think I’ll be reading more of this series, but you might find it works for you. It’s certainly a page turner.