Secret Letters by Leah Scheier
Official Summary: “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.
Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this gripping novel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice in young adult literature.”
Secret Letters follows a young Victorian girl named Dora on a trip to London. Dora leads her aunt to believe that she wants to find the latest fashions and allows her cousin to believe that Dora is selflessly going to help her cousin, Adelaide, find a detective to investigate the person attempting to blackmail her. But, the truth of the matter is that Dora is on a quest to find the man who is her biological father, none other than Sherlock Holmes. When Dora arrives in the city, she receives the devastating news that Holmes has died and that she will never have the opportunity to show him the investigative skills she has been cultivating specifically to impress him. Fortunately for her, and for her cousin, Dora literally stumbles into Peter Cartwright, an apprentice detective who is able to help Adelaide investigate her situation. As the investigation begins, Cartwright comes to appreciate Dora’s powers of deduction and ultimately comes to rely on her while solving not only her cousin’s case, but also another case that Cartwright and his employer are investigating.
Scheier tells the entire story from Dora’s point of view, which means that the reader is often as unsure of other characters’ motives as is Dora herself. This helps to make the investigation even more entertaining since the reader is discovering facts as Dora does. This might not have worked with a less impressive protagonist, but Dora is clearly modelled on Sherlock Holmes and pieces together key information based on mere snippets of clues throughout the novel. Her skill leads to an entertaining rivalry with Cartwright who previously worked with Holmes and models his own professional life after the great detective.
When I started this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that it would reference Sherlock Holmes, but this book still exceeded my expectations. Scheier doesn’t focus on making every aspect of the story realistic for Victorian England, but does touch on more of the dark aspects of the time than I expected, including the effects of classism, sexism and poor medical conditions. This helped to make the world of the book feel more believable and helped me to suspend disbelief for those elements of the story that did strain credibility a bit. The mystery itself feels a bit like a case Holmes himself would take on and has high enough stakes to make the reader want to find out how it will end. I would definitely recommend this book for mystery fans and fans of Sherlock Holmes who are interested in seeing a teenage detective patterned on him.
Check it Out: Secret Letters will be released on June 26th and can be pre-ordered now.
Readalike: Secret Letters is a great entry point for the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Fans who are more interested in sticking with a female protagonist should try Carole Nelson Douglas’ series of Irene Adler mysteries set in the Sherlock Holmes universe.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.