My final read of last month was something that I’d been intrigued by since watching the Netflix adaptation. However, I wasn’t exactly desperate to read it. The major reason that I actually decided to read it was because I need an E to complete my reading challenge. Officially, it’s not even an E title but I’m giving myself a pass on this one. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, so I was a little worried about reading this. I’d been burnt by Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk before. It just didn’t pass the vibe check and didn’t get the character right. At least Nancy Springer isn’t writing an actual Holmes mystery.
It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine when contemporary authors try and use archaic language to convey the past. I think it’s particularly irritating when American authors try to mimic the speech of educated people in the Victorian era. It’s awkward and never feels natural. Really, the archaic syntax that Nancy Springer uses makes me cringe. Although, I guess she is wise enough not to take it too far.
I guess it also doesn’t help that I’m not really a fan of when contemporary writers write about classic literary characters. I didn’t enjoy Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk because it didn’t get the characters or the setting quite right. In its own way, the novel placed the character in the middle of a modern crime novel. Crime thrillers tackle darker narratives that wouldn’t have been publishable in Arthur Conan Doyle’s day. For me, it takes away from the original character and stories. So, I was grateful that Sherlock Holmes only crops up briefly here.
Although, I personally don’t understand the need to expand on his family tree. Conan Doyle was clever in revealing very little about Holmes’ personal history because he realised that it didn’t matter. Sherlock is amazing because of his mind not because of where he came from. So, introducing a much younger sister to the mix didn’t really interest me that much. It didn’t help that I remain unconvinced that a woman of Mrs Holmes’ age during that period would have successfully given birth to a child 20 years after the birth of her previous children. However, as I’m not well-versed in historical fertility stats, I’ll let that go.
What I can say is that the book lacks a well-structured plot and has a very odd pace. It is no hurry to get the mystery going but it certainly rushes towards its conclusion. We waste so much time on exposition and set-up that we don’t really get too much of the actual case. It feels as though this would have worked better as a short story in a collection because it needed a lot of fleshing out to be a full novel. In terms of characterisation, Enola feels a little thin and the other characters are worse. I think it was clever not to have Enola be as unquestioningly brilliant as her brother (something that the film version decided against). It makes her a little more endearing and realistic. However, she still feels like a bit of a Mary Sue. She has no problem adapting to anything.
I know that I’m not the target audience for this book, so my opinion isn’t important. I just feel as though this book relies too much on gimmick and in-jokes. If this didn’t have the connection to Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle, it would be utterly forgettable. It’s not particularly exciting or engaging. The writing isn’t great and the mystery isn’t what you would describe as thrilling. Just because this was a book written for a younger audience doesn’t mean it needs to be quite so simplistic.