Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
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...
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!