Friday, December 14, 2012

Secret Letters by Leah Scheier

I think this was one of the really great used bookstore finds I had! I love finding good books at used bookstores, especially books I’ve read a lot of good reviews for. Also, it’s a coming of age story with Sherlock Holmes connections and a girl main character way ahead of her time! What’s not to like?
Since her parent’s death, Dora has been in on a deep family secret: her real father is not the man who raised her, but instead the famous detective: Sherlock Holmes. Growing up in the country, Dora learns everything a woman should, while simultaneously reading Sherlock Holmes’ stories and practicing her detective skills of course. When an opportunity arrives for Dora to go to London with her cousin (for the season), she jumps at the opportunity. And when Dora learns of her cousin’s problems with blackmail, she of course suggests consulting Sherlock Holmes, himself.
The only problem though is that when they get to London, and Dora runs to Sherlock Holmes’ home, she finds out that he has died too, something about falling into a waterfall. Before breaking the bad news to her cousin (who knows nothing of Dora’s true heritage) though, she bumps into a different young detective’s assistant, Mr. Peter Cartwright, who offers his services instead.
While Peter is helping with the case of Dora’s cousin’s blackmail, he also gets put on the case of a missing heiress. And when it becomes clear that the two cases are connected (or at least taking place on the same estate), Dora lies, acts, and risks everything to be part of the investigation, to put her coveted detectiving skills to good use. She ends up pretending to be a scullery maid on the estate with the missing heiress and the blackmailer. With staged flirtations, secret messages, snooping around rooms, and befriending the house staff, Dora is able to find clues that Mr. Cartwright can’t. The two work together, each equally bringing in what they can.
There’s guns, dancing, romance, bar scenes, lying, subterfuge, and lots of Sherlock Holmes-type deductions. There are conversations that Dora has with Mr. Cartwright that sound like they were taken directly from Mr. Holmes’ lips. And the relationship between Mr. Cartwright and Dora is filled with tension, rivalry, a little bit of animosity, and just the perfect amount of romantic possibility.
There are a lot of moments where people just have to get used to the fact that Dora doesn’t care too much for her reputation. She does what she has to do to solve a case, including getting injured. I didn’t think much of her injury because Dora kept choosing not to as well, but I was forgetting how little people back then could do for injuries, and I’m glad the author made the whole scenario more believable in regards to it getting infected.
The book is worth reading just to read the conversations between Mr. Cartwright and Dora. Dora is full of insight, intelligence, and bravery. It’s hard not love her. And the more you learn about Mr. Cartwright, it’s impossible not to love him as well. They both have had tough pasts and things they cannot forget, however much they wish to. I liked how the two cases combined. I found the missing girl story just as riveting as the blackmailing story. And I loved how there were secret letters throughout all of the stories, making the title justly put!
My problem with the book though lies in its believability. For starters, Dora, while pretending to be a scullery maid, was able to leave her jobs many times. She snuck out, investigated, left the estate on several occasions, and outwardly flirted with a couple of men. She did this all without being punished. Granted most of my knowledge of giant estates and the staff that worked them is coming from the show, Downton Abbey…but there is no possible way this could have happened. Even a smart, deductive, reasonable girl like Dora could not have possibly accomplished what she did while also doing all of her house responsibilities.
Clearly the author did her research when it comes to manners, etiquette, maid responsibilities, etc; however, it was very sugarcoated. All the times Dora was caught not being where she was supposed to be would have most definitely resulted in much harsher circumstances for her. There was a hierarchy in the house for sure and I love all the things Scheier commented in regards to house politics, but the lack of harshness and punishment made it too unbelievable for me. Also, it would be impossible for a maid to do everything she was paid to do and solve two investigations –there just isn’t enough time in the day.
I also didn’t really believe how easily Dora’s cousin took to the lie Dora fed her about why she had to leave. I feel like Dora’s cousin, while in the dark about certain issues, is close enough to Dora to know that she was lying. She could also easily tell what her cousin wished she was doing, and I don’t think her cousin was dumb enough to act the way she did.
Regardless though of some of its believability, this book was nothing but charming. The writing was excellent, the mysteries were intriguing, and the characters were great! I give it a 8/10. And I will be hoping for a sequel because there was a little foreshadow of a possible sequel to come. I of course need to read more about Mr. Cartwright!


  1. Ha, this definitely is not the most believable book in the world, but wasn't it just so much fun? I wonder if there will be more. I would totally go for it!

    1. Definitely! I would be all set for a mystery series even.