A Study in Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series), by Sherry Thomas
I have a strong enough affection for the Sherlock Holmes collection of stories and novels that I approach any new attempt to rework Conan-Doyle’s writing with suspicion. Many times I get a pleasant surprise. Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice did a brilliant job of extending the life of Holmes into retirement and adding a new female character that could match and challenge Holmes as an apprentice. Nicholas Meyer played with the depth of Holmes’ addictions in The Seven Per Cent Solution while placing Holmes smack in the middle of some of the great events of his epoch. I’m comfortable with these and they were good books.
I have much more trouble with this book by Sherry Thomas that doesn’t augment or complement Holmes so much as erase him from existence. Brilliant Charlotte Holmes so resents the constraints on Victorian women that she has an affair with a married neighbor simply to exclude herself from marriageability. Having shamed her family she exiles herself to London and becomes engrossed in a crime. Knowing that as a woman her interest will be dismissed (not exactly true as Scotland Yard did have women detectives) she invents a persona and names him Sherlock Holmes. Under this name she writes letters to a local detective offering insights she has gleaned from news reports of a series of deaths from her home district.
Trying to survive on her small savings in London Charlotte is guided to a wealthy benefactor with the last name Watson who hires Charlotte as a personal assistant. As the police have an increasing desire to meet Sherlock the two women develop a complicated ruse to rent a flat on Baker Street and present Charlotte as Sherlock’s sister, with Sherlock too ill to leave his bed so Charlotte must convey messages and deductions on his behalf.
I don’t point out any of this to say that Thomas is a bad writer. Although some of the character motivations feel a bit off she does write a good mystery that flows well and comes to a satisfying conclusion. The problem is that she’s taken a fairly irritating (to a Holmes fan) premise and then added phenomenal complications that really push the boundaries of what seems remotely possible or realistic, either for the age or just life in general. Until now Thomas has mostly been known as a romance writer which, blessedly, did not infect this book to any great extent. This is the first in what is obviously hoped to be a series and another Lady Sherlock book is due in September of 2017. It will not be popping up on my reading list.