A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas introduces us to the characters of Miss Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. John Watson in 1886. Growing up, Charlotte shows herself to be brilliant but eccentric, uninterested in small talk and deeply embarrassing her mother by using her deductive skills to blab secrets of those around her. As she enters the social season, Charlotte exacts a promise from her father that if by the age of 25, she has not found someone she is willing to marry, marriage being a barter of her reproductive organs for financial security, he will finance her education. But when her father reneges on his promise, Charlotte develops a scheme to blackmail him into financing her by sleeping with Roger Shrewsbury, a married man with many mistresses, and threatening to disclose her “ruin” if he doesn’t pay for her education. The only problem is that Roger’s mother witnesses the adultery and makes a huge fuss, causing Charlotte to flee her home in search of her own work. The next day Mrs. Shrewsbury is found dead and Charlotte’s sister Livia suspected of having done murder.
At this point, the newspaper contains a report that the inquest of Mrs. Shrewsbury has been adjourned, largely because of a letter from Sherlock Holmes pointing out some inconsistencies linking this death with two others. Only Lord Ingram knows that Sherlock Holmes is really the nom de plume of Charlotte Holmes. He serves as an ambassador between Charlotte and Inspector Treddles, in charge of the case.
In the meantime, Charlotte struggles to find work and finds her money dwindling when she meets Mrs. John Watson, a clever former actress who offers Charlotte a job as her companion. Finding Charlotte’s deductive gifts fun to see in use, Mrs. Watson proposes their going into business as consultants, pretending Sherlock is sick in bed in the next room and can offer advice but not see the clients. Thus, the pair involve themselves in both the triple murder pointed out first by “Sherlock” and their consulting cases.
I enjoyed this book for much of the way. It got a little tiresome in the sections on Charlotte’s early life and time trying to find work after her disgrace. But other than this concern, the rest of the book was fairly enjoyable. Other than the names, though, the book does not match up with the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes. It feels like the book was trying to take advantage of the name of Holmes in order to gain attention instead of creating its own setting. And once you remove the trappings of the Sherlock Holmes details, the book loses some of the entertainment. The numerous characters and their varied interaction with each other also gets confusing.
Kate Reading does a fantastic job of narrating this book. She makes each character sound original and suits her voice to each one. The book comes really alive with Reading’s performance. In addition, she reads the whole book in a fully credible British accent, though she herself is American.
As a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet Womencreates interest, especially turning Sherlock Holmes into a woman. But as a general mystery novel, the book only succeeds partially. I found parts fun but other parts confusing. I give the book three stars.
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