Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Secret Letters

Secret Letters by Leah Scheier was a book I couldn't refuse. It involves Sherlock Holmes after all, and I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I did enjoy the mystery element of the story even though I had some issues with the book overall.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Inquisitive and observant, Dora dreams of escaping her aristocratic country life to solve mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes. So when she learns that the legendary detective might be her biological father, Dora jumps on the opportunity to travel to London and enlist his help in solving the mystery of her cousin's ransomed love letters. But Dora arrives in London to devastating news: Sherlock Holmes is dead. Her dreams dashed, Dora is left to rely on her wits--and the assistance of an attractive yet enigmatic young detective--to save her cousin's reputation and help rescue a kidnapped heiress along the way.

The mystery part of the story was a lot of fun. There is more than one Secret Letter floating around in the plot. So many that one of the characters (the "attractive yet enigmatic young detective") makes a joke about it in his own letter to Dora: I would burn this letter if I were you. There are far too many questionable letters floating about in this case, and I don't want to add mine to the pile. Which brings to my favorite part of the book. Peter. I want a book series that is all about Peter. There is really no need for Dora (I'll get to that in a minute). Peter is funny. Peter is brilliant. Peter has a tragic past that has marked him, but doesn't make him. He is  making himself. He is all kinds of interesting and when he was in a scene it was great. 

The mystery is a good one. It is certainly not on the level of some of the Holmes canon, but it is fun and there are several twists and turns along the way to keep the reader engaged and guessing. Though I don't think the whole connection to Dora's cousin's blackmailing was explained as well as it could have been.

My major issue with the book lies with Dora. She is an anachronism, a 21st century girl dropped in a Victorian setting. And it shows. She is a lady of class and wealth who has been brought up in a gentle household, corseted, finished, taught the ways of society. She of course thinks it's all nonsense. I'm sure there are girls who did, but an awful lot of them seem to pop up in historical fiction. More than I think there were actually. And the extent of it here is not so believable. When it is proposed that Dora should go undercover in a house as a scullery maid she doesn't hesitate. She manages to hoodwink her chaperone into thinking she is somewhere else and hoodwink everyone into thinking that she is indeed a scullery maid. This is more than just donning a costume. It is also more than just doing chores she would never have dreamed existed. It is an entire way of life she would have had no prior exposure to. Yet it doesn't require much effort for her to fit in. Then she barely bats an eye when she discovers a fellow maid is pregnant and not married. Then she barely bats an eye again when said maid confesses she is going to have an abortion. THIS IS THE VICTORIAN ERA. I realize that this is a thing of mine being the history nerd that I am. Others might not be so bothered by it, but I'm just too tired of reading YA historical fiction where the main character thinks in such a modern context. It bothered me enough here I wanted Dora completely gone from the story and more Peter. Lots more Peter.

If you are not a hyper sensitive history nerd like me and love mystery, Sherlock Holmes, and Victorian settings this is a fun and engaging story. If you are a hyper sensitive history nerd like me you may enjoy it too. Just be forewarned. 


  1. Hmmm...that will bug me too, but it sounds good otherwise. I may give it a try. I have been forewarned. :-)

    I think more people these days honestly think the world was the same a hundred years ago. And while it was(there's nothing new under the sun), I don't think people realize how taboo and hush hush those things were because our culture is so open and public.

    1. "People" thinking that makes sense, but an author who has done her research and is setting her book in a specific period should no better. And not use her character as a way to reflect how progressive we are now and how backwards the past is. In contrast to this book Nancy Springer did a superb job with her Enola Holmes series in explaining how Enola came by her ideas and then showing how hard it was for her to live with them and reconcile them to the time she lived in.