May 12, 2022


Enola Holmes: The Graphic Novels, Book One. By Serena Blasco. Translated by Tanya Gold. Based on the novels by Nancy Springer. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     As amazingly enduring as Sherlock Holmes proved to be during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime, appearing in four novels and 56 short stories in the 40 years from 1887 to 1927 – and being brought back from the dead when he proved too popular for readers to tolerate The Final Problem – Holmes’ post-Conan Doyle life has been even more extensive. Holmes resides in stories, spinoffs, serious analyses, discussions, novels, short stories, TV series, films, games, and pretty much everything else communicable in literature and allied fields – his appearances number in the thousands. There are followups on Holmes himself, tales focusing on Dr. Watson, looks at Holmes’ “smarter brother” Mycroft, focuses on Holmes’ use of a 7% solution of cocaine, considerations of Holmes as violinist, stories about the Baker Street Irregulars, even discussions of the iconic pipe (a Calabash gourd with meerschaum bowl) and deer-hunter hat – which, as it happens, never appear in Conan Doyle’s stories (both were introduced by English actor William Gillette in an 1899 stage portrayal of Holmes).

     Nancy Springer added her “take” on the Holmes saga in a series of six mysteries from 2006 through 2010 (plus a seventh, independent one published in 2021). She created a younger sister for Sherlock and Mycroft and christened her Enola – the word “alone” spelled in reverse, a fact of some importance in the Enola Holmes books. These books have themselves been turned into a Netflix film (2020), but well before that (2015-2016), they were adapted in France as graphic novels by Serena Blasco. The first three Enola Holmes graphic novels are now available in a Tanya Gold translation – and they work exceptionally well in graphic-novel form. The Case of the Missing Marquess, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets are all cleverly managed portions of an overall setup that is quite familiar in books aimed at preteens: family drama. In this case, Enola discovers on her 14th birthday that her mother has mysteriously disappeared, and soon calls on her older brothers for help – only to find that they, for all their money and connections (Mycroft) and perfectly ratiocinative intellectual brilliance (Sherlock), do not discover or pick up on the significance of some clues that Enola herself discovers. Springer does a particularly good job of explaining why this might be so: the clues are left in ways that are particularly noticeable to women, and in straitlaced Victorian society, men simply would not “go there” to locate or interpret the information. This allows Springer to combine some once-over-lightly background on England in 1889 with an understandable modern orientation (needed to connect the protagonist with 21st-century readers) by giving Enola distinctly modern but not overly anachronistic attitudes (in favor of suffragists, against corsets, interested in Marx’s Das Kapital and its implications, and so on).

     There have been plenty of Sherlock Holmes pastiches and sendups, but this is neither. Sherlock approaches the mystery of the family’s missing matriarch in his usual logical way, but in this case the logic is misapplied because he has no reason, as a respectable Victorian man, to investigate female-centric matters such as “the language of flowers.” Mycroft, the oldest of the siblings and the financial support of their mother and of Enola, discovers soon enough that the money he has supposedly been sending for house-and-grounds upkeep and similar needs has not been used for those purposes at all. His attempt to set things right involves a determination to realign Enola’s life with late-19th-century expectations, get her fitted for proper clothing, and send her off to boarding school. Resisting all of this, Enola finds her own way to London and has a series of adventures – initially tied strongly to her search for her mum, then less tightly related to that overarching plot point.

     Tall, thin, rather gangly, red-haired Enola is a likable character and a relatable one as well. Blasco keeps the graphic novels well-focused on her, her brothers, and the various hangers-on and evil characters encountered by Enola as she sets herself up – using clever disguises reminiscent of those used by Sherlock – as a finder of missing persons. There are the usual sorts of derring-do and near-disaster that one would expect, from kidnap by nefarious dockside baddies in league with a phony spiritualist to a visit to an asylum where Dr. Watson has been taken because of a somewhat over-contrived but very interesting plot (thus giving Enola the chance to lead Sherlock to the rescue of his colleague and amanuensis). Enola’s gradual discovery of her own investigative prowess – a form of the “finding oneself” so typical in stories about and for preteens and young teenagers – is well-handled by Springer and believably rendered by Blasco.

     The plotting occasionally leaves something to be desired, with too-quick denouements and, between the first and second books, some significant changes in Enola’s life that are never fully explained but must simply be accepted as necessary to the stories. But there is underlying believability to Enola and her place in the Holmes family, and enough of a veneer of comprehension of Victorian society to make her adventures at once exotic and relatable. Blasco uses the graphic-novel format quite well, varying panel sizes frequently and sometimes dispensing with panels altogether, as when showing pages of Enola’s secret notebook – which is presented as if written on cream-colored rather than white paper. Perspective shifts, clever use of angles, and very well-thought-through color combine to make these graphic novels engaging to see as well as involving to read. Since this release is designated Book One, there should be a Book Two along in due course, containing the other three books in the main Enola Holmes series: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, and The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye. Readers of this volume will look forward to the next, if not with bated breath, at least with keen anticipation.

No comments:

Post a Comment