Friday, January 22, 2010

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer

4. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline - fifth in the Enola Holmes series
by Nancy Springer
young adult mystery, 2009
library copy
finished, 1/15/10

In The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, Enola Holmes, young sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, meets the elderly Florence Nightingale. I hate to admit it, but I knew next to nothing about her until this book. We learn about her nursing life during the Crimean War, and that the conditions were horrific and those in charge were corrupt. This corruption is at the center of the book. One evening Enola's landlady, the kindly, deaf Mrs. Tupper, shows Enola a threatening letter she has received. She then proceeds to tell the young girl of her life during the war. The young Enola is amazed to hear her story.

I simply could not imagine ... my dear old landlady, she who now spent her days stewing oxtails and tatting pillow-slips, had once traveled to a barbaric land, lost her husband...

Soon, Mrs. Tupper is kidnapped, and it is up to Enola to find her.

In addition to learning about Florence Nightingale, I also learned about the dangers of boarding school caused by women's fashions in Victorian times:

The sufferings of an upper-class girl in a typical boarding school are only slightly less severe than those of an imprisoned criminal upon a treadmill. I speak of painful physical rigours that result invariably in deformity and sometimes in death.

Why do you think fashionable women constantly faint? And die of the slightest ailment, much less childbirth? Or occasionally fade away and succumb even before reaching childbearing age? It is because they are compressed at the waist in a practice no more civilised than the binding of a Chinese woman's feet.

The book tells the reader of the treatment of women in libraries. Enola puts on clothing which will let her 'pass as a particular variety of upper-class female, the kind who espouses causes and studies (or attempts to study, when not being harrassed by proprietary males) at the British Museum.' And later she speaks of the British Museum as a 'den of nasty old men.'

After her landlady is kidnapped, Enola goes out in the street and talks to eyewitnesses, each of whom tells a different story.

a shiny black brougham driven by a pursy, florid man, and the horse had been a bay
a phaeton with ... a nondescript narrow sort of driver and a black horse
a barouche ... and the horse was brown

This book is a perfect combination of historical information, a great young heroine and role model, terrific detail which brings the period and place alive to the reader, often wry humor, and a mystery involving morse code. I've loved each and every book in the series, and hope it goes on and on.

There is lots more Nancy Springer on Letters from a Hill Farm:

first in series





  1. I have a few of these in my school library..will have to check them out for sure!

  2. Staci, you may want to begin at the beginning because they do follow a story line.

  3. I think I downloaded the first one of these onto my Kindle. I'll have to check and see. I know my library has them. They are on my radar for sure!

  4. I just love these books, Kay. With your fondness for Victorian mysteries I think you'll like them. Not dark, but still serious in their concerns about societal issues, esp. those that women faced.

  5. Hey Nan,

    Do you think my eleven-year-old daughter could read these books? She loves mysteries, but I don't want her introduced to gross violence at too young an age. What do you think? Debbie

  6. Oh, Debbie, I think these are okay. In fact, the library I borrowed the latest one from listed it as a J for juvenile rather than YA for young adult. In this book there's a little forward, spoken by Enola, which says something (sorry I don't have the book with me) about if you are squeamish, don't read this part. It's about the Crimea and soldiers dying. It's sort of tongue in cheek but still there. I really can't imagine she would be upset, but you know what, you could buy the first one and read it yourself, because you know your daughter best. And if you wanted, you could go to the author's page:

    And email her to ask.

  7. Hi Nan, I am not sure whether I have mentioned M.C. Beaton's books here before - I definitely have done on someone else's blog.
    Anyway, M.C. Beaton has a seris of Edwardian Murder Mysteries, centering around Lady Rose Summer, who is a free spirit in an unfree world - at least for women, and even more so for women "of class", who have to watch every step they take and every move they make, because they are under society's scrutiny constantly.
    In the context of the stories, we often learn about ladies' fashion and upper class customs during those days.
    And I am truly glad for being alive today and not back then!

  8. Nan, I nominated you for an award. Come on over and see.

  9. I've read her Hamish Macbeth books, but haven't heard of this series. Thanks, Librarian, I'll look into it.

    Kay, thanks dear one, I'll be over.

  10. Thank you , Nan, for introducing me to Nancy Springer. I am ready for a series, and this is it.
    AND I received my very first copy of Bookmarks today, what a joy!
    The quality of the writing, the opportunity to read reviews of new releases all in one tome.
    Thank you so much for picking my name!

  11. So glad it came, Julie! And happy you like it! The luck of the draw, my dear. :<) I don't think you can go wrong with Enola. She's a wonderful girl.

  12. I picked this one up at the library yesterday and started reading it last night

    I think I'm addicted to 'young adult' books now, thanks to you

  13. Janice, I'm glad you could find it! I'm not so wild about a lot of YA books because of the often 'problem' content of them. But this series is wonderful.


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