My love and I like to pop into small bookstores when we travel. Last spring, on our trip to Ashland, we swore we would forgo such tomfoolery as we had amassed quite the collection (yet to be read) on our honeymoon.
Alas, we simply cannot help ourselves.
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca was my book of choice.
It’s the story of Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston. Admitted to the bar in the state of New York in 1904, well before women even had the right to vote, she founded the People’s Law Firm to provide fair representation to immigrants.
In the course of investigating a missing persons case, she discovered a labor camp that basically enslaved immigrants. She went on to expose peonage at great risk to herself; because of that work, she was appointed the first female Special Assistant United States Attorney.
As for the title, it comes from one of her more celebrated cases: the disappearance of 18-year-old Ruth Cruger, who went missing in broad daylight. The police basically waved the disappearance off as a young flirtatious girl, running away with a lover. But Mrs. Humiston’s dogged quest to solve the mystery led her to be dubbed Mrs. Sherlock Holmes (though she, herself, was not a fan of the moniker, admitting she did not rely on deduction alone to solve her cases).
As you might imagine, she made many a powerful enemy.
So, what did I think of the book? Well . . . it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Unfortunately, I found it something of a slog to read. Ricca jumps back and forth between decades and cases in a writing style that is, at times, more akin to a report than a story of intrigue.
On the flip side, it’s evident he’s done his research. The facts introduce us to the amazing character that was Mrs. Humiston. They also shed light on a history of political corruption, law enforcement incompetency, slavery (of people of all colors), and human trafficking.
If we pay attention, the facts also shed light on how much work we have yet to do. And how desperately we need men and women to stand up for what’s right, to pursue truth, to help those who cannot help themselves, and give voice to those who have none.
For that, I say this book is worthy of a read.