I read an article a few months ago that was all about the various riffs on Sherlock Holmes that had come out over the past few years, and the series by Sherry Thomas stood out to me as seeming like one I would enjoy. I also thought my mom would enjoy it, and as Christmas was coming up, it seemed perfect. I bought it for her as a gift, and then I also put the first in the series, A Study in Scarlet Women, on hold from the library (the audio) and then forgot all about it. Fast-forward a few months and I finally got it from the library (using Libby) and was ready to give it a listen. Here is my review. As always, it’s spoiler-free.
The plot synopsis (because it is easier than me regurgitating it in a less succinct manner) is as follows:
With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.
But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.
So it is Sherlock Holmes turned on its head because Sherlock is in fact Charlotte, a woman with a very sharp and observant mind and perhaps less-than-stellar social graces, who really doesn’t fit into the confined mold that 1880s British society has set out for her, so she must find her way out of that mold.
- The prose – It is clever and surprising, and it takes some brains to follow along. It is sharp-witted, just like Charlotte herself, and often made me gasp with delight. Lots of great metaphors and tongue-in-cheek jabs at 1880s British society that made me giggle. It is definitely a bit less straightforward than the prose of a lot of books I read, especially since I read a lot of contemporary YA. But I liked that. I had to work just a bit to follow along, and that made it more satisfying.
- The characters – Charlotte is just delightful, and I love her idiosyncrasies. Taking Sherlock’s personality traits and flaws and putting them into a woman is just genius. And she loves to eat and she doesn’t care at all what other people think about that. She is just absolutely hilarious and so self-deprecating at the same time as she is charming. The other two characters I adored were Charlotte’s younger sister Livia, with whom she has a symbiotic relationship–neither can live without the other–and her male friend Lord Ingram, who knows her better than anyone and who is a bit mysterious for a lot of the book. I totally ship them, and I can’t wait to read the sequel to find out more about what might happen between them. I also loved Miss Watson and how that character fits into the mold of the original Watson in some ways, and in other ways is completely unlike him. Yet she is the partner whom Charlotte needs in order to succeed.
- The plot – I didn’t know who had committed the murder until near the end, and I liked that. Things twisted and turned and there were a lot of characters to keep track of, and I liked that too. It was well-paced and kept me coming back for more.
What I didn’t like:
- Absolutely nothing. This book is a gem.
So the bottom line? If you don’t mind a bit more academic prose and you like historical fiction/mysteries, and especially if you like commentary on society and gender roles as well as witty dialogue and a kind of quiet humor, then this book is for you. So what are you waiting for?