Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas

Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry ThomasMiss Moriarty, I Presume? (Lady Sherlock, #6) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #6
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley Books on November 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes comes face to face with her enemy when Moriarty turns to her in his hour of need, in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.
A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes's doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.
Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty's daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte's sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte's longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte--or is it the other way around?
But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty's disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte's skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?

My Review:

Charlotte Holmes doesn’t actually utter that paraphrase of Henry Morton Stanley’s famous greeting of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871, although she certainly could have. Miss Moriarty, I Presume? takes place in 1887, during the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

And at the beginning of this story, Charlotte is contracted to determine whether or not Miss Marguerite Moriarty was every bit as lost as Stanley had been. Her father claimed to be concerned about his daughter’s circumstances. Then again, he also claimed to be a Mr. Baxter and not the infamous Moriarty.

It’s a cat and mouse game, with Moriarty, of course, as the cat. And Charlotte and all she holds dear as a pack of mice – possibly even the three blind mice and their kin. Leaving Miss Moriarty, in this analogy at least, as a being of indeterminate species. Not exactly a free agent. Not currently a part of her father’s many criminal enterprises. Not Charlotte’s friend or ally.

Except, just possibly, in the sense that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Because James Moriarty, whatever he might be calling himself at the moment, is certain the enemy of them both.

At first, this story feels like a game of smoke and mirrors and yet more of both. James Moriarty presents himself to Sherlock Holmes as Mr. Baxter, the concerned father of Miss Baxter who has taken herself to a remote religious retreat that may have brainwashed his daughter against him in order to swindle her out of her money.

But Charlotte and Moriarty have crossed paths several times before, and his shadow has loomed over every book in the series except the first, A Study in Scarlet Women. Moriarty knows that “Sherlock” is really Charlotte, and Charlotte is all too aware that Mr. Baxter is Moriarty.

And yet both are pretending that they know nothing more about the other than what lies on the surface. Charlotte is doing her best to protect her loved ones, the hostages to fortune that Moriarty will eliminate the moment Charlotte ceases to be of use to him – or becomes even more of a nuisance than she already is.

Therefore, Charlotte’s true mission is to determine Moriarty’s real purpose for this charade, even as she goes through the motions of fulfilling “Mr. Baxter’s” commission. No matter what the man claims, Charlotte knows that his real intent is to eliminate the pesky woman who has bollixed up his plans several too many times already.

And if he can either imprison or eliminate his daughter in the process – so much the better for him.

Escape Rating A-: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? is clearly meant to be the equivalent of The Final Problem in the original Sherlock Holmes canon. Most of the series has been leading towards this moment, a possibly fatal confrontation between Holmes and her nemesis, Moriarty.

But the original canon has been twisted and so has Charlotte Holmes’ solution of that final problem.

At first, while Charlotte is working out James Moriarty’s motives for setting up this puzzling and forcing her into it, she is also faced with the very real concern about Miss Moriarty’s present circumstances.

The religious community Miss Moriarty has retreated to is unconventional at best and suspicious at worst. Miss Moriarty herself has not been seen by anyone in over three months and her door is guarded by multiple dragons. She has done some slightly questionable things with her money, and more than one member of the community has died under suspicious circumstances.

Just because her father wishes ill on both his daughter and Charlotte does not mean there is no cause for concern – merely that her father’s concern is feigned at best. Charlotte’s concern about Miss Moriarty’s situation is quite real and entirely justified, no matter how much she wonders why James Moriarty has sent her to investigate rather than one of the many agents he clearly has stationed in the area.

It’s up to Charlotte to figure out the trap, evade its jaws, and get everyone out in one piece in a way that will force Moriarty to leave them ALL alone. If she can. If she can convince Miss Moriarty that her plan has a hope in hell of succeeding.

Her solution is clever, it’s every bit as convoluted as the plot of Moriarty’s that put her in this position in the first place. And it just might work.

As a story, this entry in the series was a bit less frustrating and a bit more fun. Many of the issues that have developed during the course of the series so far, not just Moriarty but also Charlotte’s relationship with Ash, her sister’s plight with their parents, her sister’s romantic woes and her half-brother’s escape from Moriarty’s clutches all move toward some resolution, even if they don’t get all the way there. Which they shouldn’t if readers want more of this series – which we most certainly do.

Also, this is the first story in the series where Charlotte, for the most part, is able to set aside the ruse of merely serving as the mouthpiece and amanuensis for her invalid brother “Sherlock”. Moriarty already knows her real identity. She still has plenty of secrets but she does not need to hide her light under the proverbial bushel basket to accomplish what must be done. It’s freeing for Charlotte and it’s freeing for both the reader and the story as well.

If this book is the equivalent of The Final Problem, then there is hope that in spite of the ending we have not seen the last of Lady Sherlock – or, for that matter, either James or Marguerite Moriarty and their minions. I hope that will turn out to be the case, and that somehow the equivalent of The Adventure in the Empty House will occur forthwith.

Review: Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas

Review: Murder on Cold Street by Sherry ThomasMurder on Cold Street (Lady Sherlock, #5) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #5
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.
Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.
Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?

My Review:

Welcome to another captivating AND frustrating entry in the Lady Sherlock series. And I really do mean both parts of that.

The series as a whole, and this particular entry in it, provides a fascinating look at an alternative version of Sherlock Holmes, and I’m always a sucker for a good Holmes pastiche, which this series definitely is.

The alternate Sherlock explored by this series is one where Sherlock Holmes is the entirely fictitious invalid brother of the “real” detective, Charlotte Holmes.

And that’s where both the genius and the frustration of this series comes in. It’s not that Charlotte is female, it’s that Charlotte has to deal with all of the frustrations and restrictions that come with living while female – and in the Victorian Era to boot, when those restrictions were even more ridiculously restrictive than they sometimes are today.

Making Charlotte’s life an endless series of situations that she has to work her way around. Her workarounds – like the fictitious invalid brother – are an absolute necessity. And that’s what makes reading this series so endlessly frustrating. The reader wants her to be able to just “get on with it” and she literally can’t if she is to remain a true – albeit atypical – creature of her time.

The social obligations and restrictions don’t really bother her, but they definitely bother other people when she doesn’t at least nod in their direction. So it’s both right and annoying at the same time. (Obviously I’d have done very poorly as a middle-class Victorian woman!)

What makes this particular case so fascinating is that the case, in its entirety, seems to be hedged about with all of the issues that, well, hedged women about, even though both the victims and the accused perpetrator are men.

Inspector Treadles, who serves as Charlotte’s Inspector Lestrade, meaning that Treadles is the Scotland Yard detective who both assists and is assisted by Charlotte, and who therefore gets to take the official credit for the cases she solves, has been accused of murder. Considering that he was found standing over two dead bodies inside a locked room with his service revolver in his hand, it is not surprising that he was assumed to be the killer.

Particularly as he didn’t seem to have anything to say that would explain the circumstances. Mrs. Treadles comes to Sherlock Holmes in desperation, hoping against hope that the great detective will not just come to the aid of his colleague, but will be able to extricate his head from the seemingly inevitable hangman’s noose.

But Treadles has held himself distant from Holmes, after discovering that Charlotte, a mere woman, was the real detective. And he’s held himself distant from his poor wife ever since she inherited her family’s manufacturing business from her late brother.

It seems as if Treadles’ unwillingness to accept either his wife’s or his “colleague’s” ability to be both female and intelligent is at the heart of this case. One of the murder victims was his wife’s mentor, and the other is rumored to have been her lover.

He has too many motives and seemingly no defense whatsoever. It will be up to Charlotte, with the able assistance of her own band of irregulars, Mrs. Watson, Miss Redmayne and especially Lord Ashburton, to figure out the truth.

Escape Rating B: As should be clear by now, I feel a bit of a push-pull about Charlotte. She fits her time – more or less – and her time is frustrating. One of the interesting things about this particular entry in the series is the way that Lord Ashburton is beginning to understand just how privileged he is, not in the sense that he is a privileged member of the upper class, although he certainly is, but that his movements through the world are eased immeasurably simply because he is a man.

His consciousness of that fact feels a bit ahead of his time, but not unduly so. But it does serve to highlight just how many restrictions Charlotte – and by extension for this particular case, Mrs. Treadles – has to deal with.

The heart of this case is both simple and complex. On the one hand, there’s the financial malfeasance that is finally uncovered. And on the other, there’s that huge undercurrent that swirls around just how fragile a woman’s place in the world can be, and how easy it is for an unscrupulous man – or simply an unthinking or uncaring one – to make a woman’s life a misery of recriminations and blame even if she hasn’t put a single step wrong.

This made the mystery fascinating. It was fairly obvious that Inspector Treadles’ silence was intended to protect someone from something, but protect who from what was the darkest part of the mystery until near the end. That ALL of the goings-on in the place where he was found turned out to be a nearly impenetrable farce just added to the stew of red herrings in the case.

But five books in, I’m seeing a pattern that, well, tasks me. It feels like the circle is much too close, too centered on Charlotte. There should be more cases that aren’t so personal if Charlotte is operating as a consulting detective. But so far, all of the cases have centered around people close to her; her parents (A Study in Scarlet Women), her half brother (A Conspiracy in Belgravia), Lord Ashburton himself (The Hollow of Fear), Mrs. Watson (The Art of Theft) and now Inspector Treadles. There should be some cases that don’t have such high emotional stakes.

Each of the individual cases has been interesting, but the entire world shouldn’t revolve around Charlotte. Or it feels that way. Definitely on another hand, having that world revolve around Moriarty, as it also does, feels right. At the same time, it also feels like the solution that Charlotte Holmes comes up with for her final Moriarty problem is likely to end the series.

And as much as Charlotte and her world drive me a bit crazy, I don’t want that to be anytime soon.

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + GiveawayThe Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock, #4) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.   But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.   Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

My Review:

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I’ve been reading the Lady Sherlock series as each book comes out, beginning with A Study in Scarlet Women three years ago.

The twist in the Lady Sherlock series is, on the one hand, the change that is made obvious by the series title. In this series, Sherlock Holmes is the fictitious, invalid brother used by Charlotte Holmes to mask the fact that she is the deductive genius who finds missing objects and solves crimes – as well as, in the case of this story – committing them.

But Holmes isn’t the only gender-swapped character in the series. There is no Dr. Watson. Instead, there is the former actress Mrs. Watson. Her husband was the military doctor who served in the Afghan War, as the Dr. Watson of the original canon did.

Mrs. Watson is not, however, the chronicler of “Sherlock” Holmes’ adventures. That duty has been left to Olivia Holmes. Charlotte’s younger sister.

One of the things that makes this series stand out from many other variations on the Holmes theme is not just that many of the roles have been gender-swapped, but that the series does not ignore the many ways that life as a middle or upper-class woman in Victorian England was restricted.

Charlotte’s ruse about her bedridden brother is part and parcel of those restrictions, as is her choice to become a “scarlet woman” in the first book so as to get herself disowned and out from under her parents’ disapproving thumb. A thumb that has all the force of law to hem her life into a tiny straight-jacket of propriety and misery.

Mrs. Watson, as a former actress, was already a scarlet woman when this series began. The case that Holmes and Watson take up in this entry in the series has its roots in her past. Once upon a time, when she was younger and perhaps a bit more foolish, Mrs. Watson fell in love with another woman. A woman who is now the Dowager Maharani of Ajmer. A woman who comes to London to engage Sherlock Holmes’ services in order to thwart her blackmailer – only to discover that there is no Sherlock, only her former lover and a woman who may be a towering genius of deduction but has no experience in breaking and entering.

Because that’s what the job seems to require. Breaking into an invitation-only house party and art auction, with the sole purpose of stealing a valuable painting and the explosive secrets that are concealed within its frame.

But nothing about this case is as it seems. As Charlotte and her team of friends and confidants investigate the mess that the Maharani has gotten herself into, the more that Charlotte realizes that very little about this case is what it seems.

There is much more going on than meets the eye – whether the eye is quicker than the hand or not. This case contains plenty of misdirection – and more than a few magic tricks – on every side. But at its heart there’s danger that none of them ever expected to face – at least not again.

Escape Rating B+: Like the previous entries in this series, I have mixed feelings about The Art of Theft. I’m almost feeling as if there are two books combined into one slightly uneasy combination.

The first part of this one is wrapped up in all of the restrictions faced by genteel women in Victorian England. Even though Charlotte and her sister Olivia are both in their late 20s, both definitely adults, legally they are the property of their father until they marry and become the property of their husbands.

That Charlotte was bloody-minded enough to find a way out of the trap does not mean that she is not affected by the solution she chose – as is Olivia. Their parents have forbidden the sisters to see each other, and while Charlotte is out from under their thumb, Olivia is not. She has no way of making a living for herself, and no freedom except through subterfuge.

It is ironic that Charlotte, Olivia and Mrs. Watson do read as women of their time, but their very necessity of kowtowing to the restrictions of being a woman in their time makes this reader grit her teeth and want the story to just get on with it.

Once they have the bit of the case between their teeth, in spite of all of the insanity that is wrapped around that particular endeavor, the story moves much more quickly, to the point where the reader can’t turn pages fast enough because there’s so much going on. And so much of it seems like “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s also that once the case gets going, Charlotte’s constant worry about “Maximum Tolerable Chins” gives way to her cold-blooded analytical ability to take what few facts they have and wrestle those facts into a theory that allows them to proceed – and succeed – in their endeavor.

(It seems in this series that the original Sherlock’s drug addiction has been converted to Charlotte’s addiction to rich pastries. It is notable that Sherlock never worried one-tenth as much about his seven-percent solution as Charlotte does her cream buns.)

Back to the case. There were plenty of examples of cases solved by the original Holmes where it takes Holmes’ uncanny ability to pull together disparate and obscure facts with painstaking observations to learn that the case the detective was hired for is not the game that is actually afoot.

And so it proves here. The way that Charlotte Holmes puts together the bits and pieces of what they are hired to do in order to discover what actually needs to be done is what keeps this reader glued to this series in spite of my frustrations with the maneuvering that Charlotte and company often have to do in order to get to the point.

In the end, this case is nothing like it appeared to be. Their client covered up their truths, and the blackmailer used the entire thing as a way to misdirect every single person at the auction.

That Moriarty emerges from the shadows at the end is more than enough to make me anticipate the next story in this series. There will be a solution to The Final Problem that is Moriarty. But hopefully not yet.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a copy of The Art of Theft to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry ThomasThe Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock, #3) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

My Review:

This was the book I wanted to read, so in spite of being a couple of weeks early, I did. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Even if I found this entry in the series every bit as frustrating – as well as every bit as captivating – as the first two books, A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia.

And yes, that’s a hint. This is a series where you really need to read them in order. Holmes’ situation in this series is so singular that the reader really needs to start from the beginning for it to make the sense that is required. Particularly as the case in The Hollow of Fear is directly related to events that took place in A Conspiracy in Belgravia – even more of those events than at first appears.

By this point in the series, we are well acquainted with Charlotte Holmes and her lucrative masquerade as her invalid “brother” Sherlock. Charlotte has found a rather unique solution to the restrictions placed on genteel Victorian womanhood by arranging to have her virginity rather publicly taken by a married man, making her a scarlet woman and removing herself from her parents’ household and restrictions.

She’d rather be disowned than respected. Which does not mean that she does not still care for her family, or at least for her two sisters, Livia and Bernadine. Bernadine, the oldest sister, has been kept away from society since she was a little girl. Based on the descriptions of her behavior, it seems as if Bernadine has a severe form of autism – but of course that was not recognized at the time.

To their unloving and extremely profligate parents, Bernadine is an embarrassment and an expense they would rather dispose of.

Charlotte, as we have learned to know her better, quite possibly has Asperger’s Syndrome. She certainly has some of the hallmarks of the syndrome, notably the high intelligence, the hyper focus on one particular topic, and a considerable amount of difficulty with social skills.

Livia is the closest to what their society classes as “normal”, but she also has no desire to rescue her parents’ terrible financial situation by marrying someone who will stifle her creativity. It is Livia in this Sherlock Holmes pastiche who is the author of the stories.

The case in The Hollow of Fear is a complex one – and it is a case that both strikes close to home and reaches towards the halls of power. In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Holmes discovered that her friend Lord Ingram’s estranged wife was not merely a mercenary bitch, which was already well known, but was also an agent of Moriarty (of course there’s a Moriarty) and therefore a traitor to the Crown for which Lord Ingram is an agent.

At the end of that story, Lady Ingram supposedly flees to the Continent, but at the beginning of this story her corpse is found on Lord Ingram’s estate, stuffed rather unceremoniously into the icehouse.

Of course Lord Ingram is the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Not just because police always look at the spouse first, but because Lord Ingram has so very many motives to want his wife permanently out of the picture.

Including the exceedingly well known fact that Lord Ingram is in love with Charlotte Holmes.

But it will be up to Sherlock Holmes, with the assistance of a host of both real and imaginary relatives, to unravel the trap that Lord Ingram has so obviously been placed in. Without revealing either her own identity or the secret workings that caused this mess in the first place.

Escape Rating B+: I always have mixed feelings about the books in this series. The author has done an excellent job of conveying just how restricted women’s activities were at this particular period, and how much difficulty Charlotte has in working her way around those restrictions.

The advent of “Sherrinford” Holmes in this story was a fascinating way of working around the conundrum this time – as well as the creation of quite the character in his own right.

It takes a bit of time for the “case” to truly begin in this one, and those opening chapters don’t move at nearly a fast enough pace. At the same time, they are absolutely crucial for setting up the scenario and getting all the clues in place for the main event – which is a doozy.

This is a case where, in the end, nothing is quite as it seemed. The switch between the events as they appeared from the outside and the reveal at the end felt a bit abrupt, but once the story switches from what everyone “sees” to what is happening under the surface it all falls into place quite satisfactorily.

But while it is all going on, the author does a good job of ramping up the tension. The situation, particularly for Lord Ingram, seems bleak. We expect that “Sherlock” is going to save the day, but not even Charlotte herself is willing to promise that all will be well. Like the characters in the story, particularly Livia Holmes, we find ourselves hoping without any certainty that all will be well.

That there is so much that cannot be revealed because it will unmask governmental secrets just adds to the tension. We know Ingram is innocent, but we don’t know whether it will be possible to prove his innocence when there is so much that absolutely cannot be told.

The reveal of the villain at the end is a surprise to the reader and many of the characters as well. And it does a beautiful job of setting up the possibilities for the next story in the series. There are at least two more books coming, and as much as the descriptions of just how much Charlotte has to work around and how appalling difficult many women’s situations are, I can’t wait!

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry ThomasA Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2) by Sherry Thomas
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lady Sherlock #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The game is afoot as Charlotte Holmes returns in the atmospheric second novel in New York Times bestseller Sherry Thomas's Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series.
Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.
Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.
In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

My Review:

I actually read this book a couple of weeks ago, when the Sherlock Holmes book I was planning to read kind of fell through, but I still had a taste for Holmes. So I dove through the towering TBR pile and emerged with A Conspiracy in Belgravia, the second Lady Sherlock book after last fall’s fascinating A Study in Scarlet Women.

While I am familiar enough with the Holmes canon to play spot the analog between a pastiche series like Lady Sherlock and the original, I certainly don’t have it memorized. So as obvious as it was that A Study in Scarlet Women was a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, the derivation of the title of A Conspiracy in Belgravia was much less obvious. As much as it sounds to the ear like A Scandal in Bohemia, the stories are not related. Although, now that I think about it, A Conspiracy in Belgravia does contain hints of The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.

So a puzzle for another time. Meanwhile, we have the conundrums that Charlotte Holmes and her associates have run across within the rather tony and well-to-do precincts of Belgravia. And, while Charlotte investigates not one but two separate mysteries, she is also mulling over a tempting marriage proposal from Lord Bancroft. The proposal is not tempting because of the man himself, but rather for the sheer number of problems that marriage to him will solve.

None of which resolve the largest dilemma that this proposal creates – that Charlotte Holmes is in love, if that phrase can be used for someone who is usually much more brain than emotion, with the man’s brother Lord Ingram. To add to the difficulties involved, Lord Ingram finally figured out that he is in love with Charlotte. Unfortunately for both of them, this discovery occurred well after his marriage to someone else. That it has become obvious over time that Lady Ingram only married him for his money makes the situation all that much more melodramatic and tragic.

Especially when Lady Ingram calls upon “Sherlock Holmes” so that the detective may discover the whereabouts of her former lover – a man who also happens to be Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother.

When the puzzles that Lord Bancroft (who is definitely the analog to Mycroft in this pastiche) run into Charlotte’s commission from Lady Ingram, the intertwining conundrums begin to test even the mettle of Sherlock Holmes. Can she remain free, save her sisters and get to the bottom of all the conspiracies before it is too late?

Only Sherlock Holmes has the capacity to reveal the depths of this conspiracy. But can she? And, in the end, should she?

Escape Rating B: I’m a bit on the fence about this one, and for some of the same issues that were raised by the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women. One of the issues with historical fiction is where the author draws the line between making the female protagonist relatable to a 21st century reader and making sure that the character fits plausibly within her time period. If she’s not relatable enough, readers lose interest. If she’s too much a part of her time, the odds are unfortunately all too likely that her activities will be too restricted to make her the heroine of her own story.

With a Holmes pastiche, even one that plays as much havoc with the original characters as this one, taking Holmes too far away from the character we know and love, creates a third crevasse into which the story can fall.

One of the things that the author has done with this series has been to make Charlotte an unconventional creature of her times. While she may have a singular genius, the world treats her the way all women are treated – her movements are often restricted, she must hide behind her fictitious brother, the police inspector she assists resents her assistance because she is a woman, and her parents have the right to kidnap her off the streets, while the establishment will consider that a job well done.

The dilemma of Lord Bancroft’s marriage proposal is very real. She would regain respectability, her parents would leave her alone, and she can rescue both of her sisters, who very much do need rescuing. But marriage would give Lord Bancroft the right to control her movements and her activities. He has already said that he would not allow her to continue practicing as Sherlock Holmes. While his position as this world’s Mycroft means that he does have fascinating puzzles for her to solve, she knows that marriage sacrifices her happiness and merely her right to be her own person and make her own decisions for a safety that can be restricted or removed at any turn.

Charlotte’s relationship with Lord Ingram also gives me pause. With the notable exception of Laurie R. King’s utterly marvelous Holmes/Russell series, Holmes’ name and the word romance are seldom mentioned in the same breath. Or even in the same paragraph. For someone who so singularly knows her own mind, and gives it precedence over every other facet of her existence, Charlotte’s confused feelings about Lord Ingram don’t quite ring true for Charlotte as Holmes. If it is an attempt to make her seem, at least in this one aspect, more typically feminine, it falls a bit flat for this reader.

None of the above is to say that I did not enjoy A Conspiracy in Belgravia and this alternate vision of Sherlock Holmes, because the intricacies of the mystery were quite entertaining. The revelation of the mastermind behind events was both a surprise and not, as this personage could be expected to appear in some form in this series. But the way that events maneuvered around to the revelation were a pleasant surprise for the reader, and an unpleasant surprise for the characters.

As it should be.

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry ThomasA Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas turns the story of the renowned Sherlock Holmes upside down…   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.

My Review:

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so when I saw the eARC of A Study in Scarlet Women, I was instantly intrigued. Sherlock Holmes has been adapted in so many different directions, from the very different modern TV incarnations of Sherlock and Elementary to the slightly off-tangent House to the married Holmes in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series along with the fantasy version in the late Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series and Neil Gaiman’s award-winning A Study in Emerald.

While there was a well-known series by Carole Nelson Douglas that features Irene Adler (“the woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia) as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective, I’ll admit that I can’t find a citation for an actual female Holmes, although I know I’ve read them.

A Study in Scarlet Women is just that – it posits Sherlock Holmes as a woman who uses Sherlock Holmes as a nom-de-guerre to shroud her work in an air of mystery, and to keep both the police and the criminal element from dismissing her as merely a female. The rendering of Sherlock Holmes, nee Charlotte Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet Women is contemporaneous with the original Sherlock Holmes canon. One of the elements that is both fascinating and frustrating about A Study in Scarlet Women is that Charlotte Holmes does not feel anachronistic to her era at all. She is forced to deal with all of the prejudices and restrictions that surrounded young women of that era, and find a way around them.

While she does get a bit luckier than is probably likely, even her solutions fit within the time-frame. She hides who she really is behind a fictional “brother”, and conducts many of her consultations via the post, the better to hide her physical self.

Part of the frustration in this book is that those restrictions were very, well, restrictive. Charlotte’s solution to the problem of getting out from under her parents’ control while not putting herself under the control of a husband is ingenious. She reckons with all of the consequences to herself, but neglects to factor murder into her calculations. Not that she committed one, nor has anyone in her family, but that her disgrace gives her sister and her parents a reason to commit one, and puts them under suspicion of having done so.

Her first case arises from a need to clear their names, as well as to see justice done.

There is a Watson, and her origins (yes, her) are even more fascinating than Holmes, both in the ways that they do and do not follow the original character. Mrs. Watson, a well-to-do widow, comes to Charlotte’s rescue when she is at her most desperate, and finds a common cause and a new lease on life assisting in Charlotte’s investigations.

Where Dr. John Watson was a veteran of the Afghan war, Mrs. John Watson is the widow of an Army doctor who was killed in, of course, the Afghan War. However, Mrs. Watson, nee Joanna Hamish Redmayne, is also a former actress and retired denizen of the demimondaine, and therefore a scarlet woman. As is Charlotte, who arranged to have herself “ruined” to escape the strictures of upper-middle-class respectable and restricted womanhood.

It is these two scarlet women, with the help of Charlotte’s somewhat reluctant childhood friend, and an even more desperate police detective, who discover the link between a series of seemingly unrelated murders, and get Charlotte’s family off-the-hook.

It is the beginning of what I hope will be a brilliant career for Charlotte, make that Sherlock, Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, this story is both fun and frustrating, sometimes in equal measure. Because it posits a female Sherlock Holmes during the Victorian Era, the character and the reader are forced to deal with the upper-class-Victorian restrictions on women’s, particularly young women’s, lives and movements. The first third of the book has to feature Charlotte’s solution to this particular quagmire, and its immediate consequences. It’s a situation that shows Charlotte’s resolution and self-knowledge, but for 21st century readers it’s fairly ugly. It feels realistic, but no fun at all to read through.

And we need to see the consequences of Charlotte’s tough decisions and all of their unfortunate direct consequences for Charlotte until she very nearly hits rock-bottom. It’s only at that point that she is rescued by the equally unconventional Mrs. Watson, and her story really begins.

Because Watson in this case is older and has more experience of the world, Holmes and Watson are much more nearly equal than some of the popular misconceptions about the pair. This Watson is no dunderhead. She is not the genius that Holmes is, but her acting ability, knowledge of the social strata and ability to understand people makes her a partner rather than a mere sidekick. Especially since Mrs. Watson provides the initial funds for the entire enterprise!

As the story unfolds, the reader gets to play a game of “spot the character” as we determine who in this new version is playing the parts that are familiar from the original canon. For example, the author of the stories will not be Watson, but Charlotte’s sister. It’s a fun game and I enjoyed figuring out who was who.

The case was every bit as convoluted, and the solution every bit as difficult, as any of the original Holmes’ cases. The clues may be there from the beginning, but determining whodunnit and why is an effort that takes both Charlotte and the reader the entire story.

One part of A Study in Scarlet Women troubles me just a bit. As is famously known, the original Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no truck with emotion of any kind. Until the version of Holmes portrayed in the Mary Russell stories, Holmes and romance have seemed to be, not merely on different continents, but on far distant planets from one another.

There is not exactly a romance in A Study in Scarlet Women, but there’s not exactly not one either. Charlotte’s childhood friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton, is clearly the man she should have married. And very much vice-versa. But they didn’t realize it until much too late, after Ingram was not only married but had discovered that his wife had only married him for his money and title. It is not a happy marriage, or even a companionable one. But Ingram is an honorable man, perhaps to a fault. The amount of unresolved sexual tension between Ingram and Charlotte is enough to light London for a month through a pea-souper fog. I wonder how this conundrum will get resolved as the series continued.

I wonder even more why it was necessary to introduce a romantic element for Holmes in the first place. Hopefully we’ll see in future entries in the series.