“How to Catch a Bogle” by Catherine Jinks

The Plot in 5 Sentences or Less:  Alfred Bunce and his apprentice Birdie work in Victorian era London as boglers, a kind of early ghostbusters that traps and kills nasty monsters and demons that haunt the dark places in cities and eat children.  Their boggling business runs smoothly enough until the high class folklorist Miss Eames begins following them on their appointments and makes the recommendation that Birdie, for her safety, should not be used as bogle bait.  Also, the local pick pocket madam Sarah Pickles importunes Alfred to investigate the cause of some of her boys going missing.  Helping Sarah will take Alfred, Birdie, and Miss Eames on the most dangerous bogling mission yet.

My Take:  This was an excellent read, not so much for the page turning action, but rather for the evocation of Victorian era England.  Jinks has a knack for picking up the dialect of high and low class society and bringing them all to life.  Readers will learn about lusherys, mudlarks, and a dozen other things that are foreign to 21st century America.  Any teen interested in reading about catching nasty beasties on the dark streets of bygone London should read this book.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  On her website, Catherine says that she became a writer because she like reading so much.  A sequel to “How To Catch A Bogle” is due out next year!

The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff

ImageSynopsis:  The year is 1735 and the place is the Tower of London.  Forrest Harper is an 11 year old boy who is the son of the prison’s Ravenmaster.  His days are spent tending to the birds, playing with his rat catching friend Ned, and providing meals to some of the prisoners.  Forrest longs for adventure and receives some when a group of Scottish prisoners are sent to the tower.  Amongst them is a girl named Maddy who soon fills Forrest’s ear up with tales of her home in Scotland.

As the day of Maddie’s trial and execution approaches, Forest and Ned are tempted to become part of a plot to help her escape.  But there is so much at stake.  If they are caught, it would surely mean death for them and great shame for Forrest’s family.  What will they do?

Personal Reaction:  Because I enjoy reading about history and other cultures, this was a quick and easy read for me.  Woodruff packs this book with bullies, thugs, and shady people.  She also does such an excellent job of building characters and moving the plot along that I truly wanted for Forrest, Ned and Maddie to prevail.  After I hit the midway point of this book, I just burned through the rest. I had goosebumps as I read the final pages.  I’m not sure that I can give a book higher praise than that.

Themes include father-son relationships, testing of friendships, freedom vs. captivity, bullying,  the limits of patriotism, the morality of public executions, child labor, and child cruelty.

225 pages; published 2003

Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of the Left Handed Lady by Nancy Springer

9780399245176      The second installment of Nancy Spinger’s Enola Holmes series recounts the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s younger sister as she travels the streets of London trying to solve the mystery of a kidnapped heiress.  The novel opens with Enola having fled from her brother Sherlock who holds the traditional views that she must commit her life to boarding school and then prepare herself for marriage.

To retain her freedom, Enola strikes out on her own and goes into the detective business by setting up shop as one Dr. Ragostin, Scientific Perditorian (the term is obscure, but seems to mean someone who finds something that is lost) .  As she is female, she cannot be Dr. Ragostin himself, who does not exist anyway, so she artfully poses as his secretary and teases out the information from all of the potential clients that walk through the door.  This is how she gets her cases.  One of these customers is Dr. Watson, who does not recognize Enola, and acts as a proxy for Sherlock to track down his missing sister.  Enola realizes that she must be crafty to elude her intelligent brother.

Through her landladies, Enola hears of another mystery that captures her attention.  Lady Cecily, the daughter of a local wealthy family, has gone missing from her bed one night, a ladder found outside her window.  Donning a series of disguises, Enola is able to interview her parents and soon discovers that Lady Cecily has dealing with the underground labor movement in London.  A series of twists and turns ensue, but Enola is able to finally locate the young lady and discover that she is the victim of a power hungry villain.

Readers looking for a strong female protagonist will relish these Enola Holmes books.  Enola is intelligent, cunning, and fiercely independent.  In fact, her name spelled backwards is ‘alone.  Older readers may appreciate how Springer has obviously done her homework in bringing late nineteenth century London to life.  From the fashion to the different dialects, one feels immersed in the seedy and dark side of this dangerous city.

I’d recommend these Enola Holmes mysteries to readers ages 9 to 11 looking for a historical mystery series featuring a strong heroine.