Once again Nancy Springer uses Enola to explore a truly horrific aspect of Victorian life for women -- the appearance of the "Black Barouche" in the middle of the night to whisk a particularly uncooperative woman off to the insane asylum.
Dr. Watson implores Enola to come and help her brother Sherlock, hoping maybe she can lift him out of a severe bout of melancholy. She does, in what he considers her usual insufferable way, but while she's rousting him to consciousness a client stops by -- and Enola takes the case. Right from under his nose. What better motivation to get out of bed than being beat by a 15-year-old girl -- albeit a budding professional Scientific Perditorian (a finder of lost things) -- out of a case?
Letitia Glover, a rather non-descript but professional young woman, was close to her twin, Felicity, who had the seeming good fortune to marry a wealthy, widowed Earl. Now the Earl, in a most clinical fashion, has informed Letitia via letter her sister is dead and sent her an urn with ashes as proof.
A quick test reveals they're from a critter, not a woman.
Because this era is chock full of much worse things than death a man of means can do to a woman, Letitia's desperate to find her sister.
She calls upon an old ally, Tewkie, or more specifically his mother, for information about the Earl. His first wife and two children died, supposedly of diptheria, and were also -- cremated. Not buried, as was custom. Quite a scandal.
And from Tewkie, she learns the first wife was rumored to not have died at all. She was taken away by the Black Barouche. Neither knows what that means, it isn't discussed in polite society in anything other than harsh whispers. But it is absolutely imperative Enola figure it out.
She poses as Tewkie's cousin to gain access to the Earl's manse. Once there, she doesn't know enough of English lineages to remain disguised for long and is quickly exposed, but in a fantastic twist is locked in Felicity's room. There she discovers a message in Felicity's paintings: insane asylum.
The race is on to find the "institution" where the Earl has committed Felicity, but first Enola must escape, with some help from her brother, who finally throws off his funk completely and catches up to her. It will take his help, and Dr. Watson's, to rescue the dear lady.
I won't spoil how they rescue her, or the plot twists to get to the end, but this was a fast-paced engaging mystery highlighting yet another grotesque abuse of women in this time period in England.