Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #7
Published by Berkley on March 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository, Bookshop.org
Charlotte Holmes’s brilliant mind and deductive skills are pulled into a dangerous investigation at sea in the new mystery in the bestselling Lady Sherlock series.
After feigning her own death in Cornwall to escape from Moriarty’s perilous attention, Charlotte Holmes goes into hiding. But then she receives a tempting offer: Find a dossier the crown is desperately seeking to recover, and she might be able to go back to a normal life.
Her search leads her aboard the RMS Provence, sailing from Southampton for the eastern hemisphere. But on the night Charlotte makes her move to retrieve the dossier, in the midst of a terrifying storm in the Bay of Biscay, a brutal murder also takes place on the ship.
Instead of solving the crime, as she is accustomed to doing, Charlotte must take care not to be embroiled in this investigation, lest it become known to those who harbor ill intentions that Sherlock Holmes is abroad and still very much alive.
Murders at sea are even more claustrophobic and self-contained than the traditional English cozy house murder. When a murder occurs on shipboard, the suspect pool and the detectives, whether any of the above are professionals or mere amateurs of convenience, are all stuck with each other and bereft of outside help, information or escape until the ship reaches port.
(If the idea of a shipboard mystery sounds like fun, try A Restless Truth by Freya Marske. It’s also a fun shipboard historical mystery, but with more than a touch of spells and magic.)
There’s no possibility of scapegoating a mysterious outsider on a ship, once it’s out of range of land, as the RMS Provence certainly is by the time that Jacob Arkwright’s body is found. Charlotte Holmes, AKA Sherlock Holmes, can be certain that his murderer is among the small number of passengers and crew already aboard.
It should be an easy case for her to solve. And it would be, if Charlotte, even if she has to masquerade as Sherlock yet again, was traveling as herself. Or as even as himself.
They’re not, and that’s where all the sticky wickets come in and stick themselves quite firmly to Charlotte’s person, traveling incognito as the redoubtable – and quite real if otherwise occupied – Mrs. Ramsay.
It’s a mask that Charlotte can’t afford to drop – and not just because suddenly revealing her subterfuge will make her the primary suspect in the murder. Even though she and her friends and colleagues aboard ship fear her unmasking at every turn.
Because the detective who just so happens to be aboard the Provence is none other than the intelligent and implacable Inspector Brighton, a Scotland Yard CID investigator that Holmes got the better of – read as exposed that the Inspector’s implacability had sent him barking up the wrong suspect tree – in Murder on Cold Street.
Murder investigations uncover all kinds of secrets that their keepers would prefer to remain secret, whether they have anything at all to do with the case at hand or not. Charlotte’s travel arrangements do not, but the Inspector would very much enjoy exposing her all the same.
An exposure that would have potentially deadly consequences for Charlotte and all she holds dear. So she is forced to work through others to lead the investigation to a truth that will expose the murderer while keeping Charlotte and her purpose for being aboard hidden in the shadows.
It’s not an easy job, but it’s all in a day’s – or at least a voyage’s – work for Sherlock Holmes. With just a little more help than usual from her friends.
Escape Rating B+: After the events of the previous book in the series, Miss Moriarty, I Presume? Charlotte is presumed dead after facing Moriarty in her own personal version of the original Holmes story, The Final Problem. Hence Charlotte’s need to travel incognito.
Charlotte may be hiding from Moriarty aboard the Provence, but she is also in search of a solution to her dilemma. While Moriarty is hunting her, she is hunting him. Or at least, she is hunting his agents and their documents, at the behest of this world’s version of Mycroft. Who is not, in this case, her brother, but rather the brother of her friend and lover, Lord Ingram Ashburton.
Charlotte has made a deal with Lord Remington, AKA Mycroft. If she finds a particular stolen document, he’ll grant her official protection by his office, a protection that is potentially deadly to Moriarty if breached.
That Remington seems to have hampered her investigation at every turn – or at least that his agents have – is probably fodder for the next book. (I sincerely hope!)
Aboard the Provence, the game is very much afoot in a way that Charlotte can’t afford to play as herself for fear of exposure to Moriarty’s agents aboard the ship. Leaving Lord Ingram to serve as her eyes and ears while Charlotte and Mrs. Watson do a bit of surreptitious investigation in the persons of a couple of old biddies and Charlotte’s mother nearly lies her way into a murder charge.
It’s not all fun and games, but it is quite a bit of a lark for the reader as misdirection and mistaken identities abound at every turn. Charlotte is in her element while her friends battle their own nerves on her behalf.
As much as I enjoyed the mystery in this tempest, the way the story was told didn’t quite work as well as it might have – at least for this reader. The mystery is investigated and revealed in two tracks.
The first track is the investigation as it proceeds from day to day as the ship steams from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, with Lord Ingram serving as Inspector Brighton’s amanuensis as he interviews the potential suspects and goes further and further astray.
And then we go back in time a bit and observe Charlotte’s and Ingram’s real discovery of the murder, and their attempts to both cover up that initial discovery, hide Charlotte’s true identity, set up a series of subterfuges AND do a much more thorough and successful investigation of the crime while hiding more or less in plain sight.
The slips between those two tracks weren’t always obvious to me as the reader, although that may be a result of reading the electronic Advance Reading Copy and this will not be an issue for readers holding the final version of the book in their hands or devices.
That niggle aside, the mystery was still fascinating. I loved watching Charlotte work while hiding behind the kind of character masking that the original Holmes did so well – instead of hiding behind Sherlock Holmes himself.
I’m very glad that Charlotte Holmes’ adventures are clearly not over at the conclusion of this case, because this reinterpretation of the Holmes’ canon just gets better and better as the characters become more firmly developed and we get more firmly invested in them.
As Charlotte managed to complete her assignment, in spite of the interference of conducting an undercover murder investigation during her undercover operation, I’m looking forward to what happens next in her continuing story, whenever it may appear.