American Irene Adler is on vacation in Saint-Malo, France when she meets Sherlock Holmes. She is stifled by the Victorian rules regarding female behavior and it makes her rebellious. This might get lost on the reader as the author doesn't go into depth but only mentions it in the first chapter that frames the story. Irene just thinks about how the butler is telling her to be like a lady and later we see that she does not get along with her mother. Irene consistently bucks conventions saddled on women as the boys don't expect her to do anything dangerous or throw any punches. She surprises them in many different situations and exposes her untraditional ways.
Sherlock and Irene immediately have a battle of wits before she convinces him to help her escape from the Butler that is looking for her. A juggernaut of adventures ensue that made me read the whole book in two hours. Their escape takes them to a boat owned by Sherlock's friend, Arsene Lupin, and the three flee to an empty mansion. All three use the place for a break from the pressures at home and to be independent. On the way back they find a dead man on the beach with a note in his pocket and follow the clue. The two boys try to protect Irene but soon find out that she is perfectly capable of protecting herself. Or her butler is. They invite her over for boxing lessons showing how they view her as an equal. This is quite progressive for Victorian times and the spunky Irene enjoys the freedom. The twists and turns of the mystery had me baffled and the resolution was satisfying.
Irene's parents do not get along particularly well and we discover that Irene adores her father and resents the substitute butler at times even though he genuinely cares for her. After he gets her out of some scrapes and she calls him by his first name, she shows a slow maturation as her respect for him grows and she realizes that he does care for her. She does not understand her mother's lack of intellectual curiosity and later we learn that she is an orphan. She's punished for her impulsive behavior, but it has no effect on her because she doesn't value her mother's opinion and her curiosity for the world overrides her fear of authority. She's not going to be a Victorian woman that is happy in the domestic sphere. She's a feisty intellectual that is rebellious and has power struggles with her mother and butler. While the butler makes some inroads with connecting with her, the mother does not. The father making faces in boring social arrangements setup by the wife shows a certain disrespect to his wife and encourages Irene in her rebellious actions. He models some of the behavior seen in Irene. This dynamic makes for an authentic family and great discussions.
If you like middle grade murder mysteries try, "Three Times Lucky" and "The Dead Man in Indian Creek." If you want twists on the Sherlock Holmes classics try: "The Case of the Missing Marquess" (Enola Holmes Mysteries #1) by Nancy Springer or "The 100-Year-Old Secret" (The Sherlock Files #1) by Tracy Barrett.