Gemma Doyle, who owns the Sherlock Holmes Book Shop and Emporium, located at 220 Baker St., West London in Massachusetts, contains the same observation skills as her detective hero in Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany. Noticing every detail around her, Gemma spots a magazine that does not belong to the shop amid the books. Looking at it, she gets excited but alarmed to discover what looks like a first edition of the magazine that carried A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes book, which is the most valuable magazine in the world, with only 31 in existence. Using her deductive skills, Gemma figures out who left the magazine there and tracks the woman to a local hotel, where she and her business partner, Jane, find the woman strangled.
As the lead detective arrives on the scene, Gemma is startled to see that he is Ryan Ashburton, the man she almost married, who moved to Boston but was lured back to West London for the lead detective job. His junior detective, Louise Estrada, shows lots of suspicion toward Gemma’s seemingly unreasonable knowledge of the case and wants to arrest Gemma. Thus, Gemma decides she must use her incredible deductive skills to locate the killer before she and Jane get locked up for the crime themselves.
Especially since the intense popularity of the TV series Sherlock, there has been a rekindling of interest in Sherlock Holmes, spurring the creation of many pastiches on this detective. In general, I dislike such works, as they seem to rely on the fame of the name to make themselves successful instead of creativity of writing. However, this book has turned out to be an exception to my general distrust, and I am glad to have read it.
Gemma seems to channel Holmes’s genius without trying to be him. I especially enjoyed the fact that Gemma narrates the book, giving her detailed observations of everything and everyone she encounters. With the exception of a few Sherlock Holmes stories towards the very end of Conan Doyle’s life, it is extremely rare to find the extraordinary detective narrate. Instead, almost all such books and stories follow the same pattern of having the much less cerebral assistant tell the story in order to make the detective seem particularly remarkable. Thus, this book is very refreshing in showing us every step of her mental processes. In addition, Gemma shows a greater degree of humanity than Holmes ever does.
I did find a couple problems with details of this book. First, it contains periodic inconsistent details, such as saying that Gemma went home to walk her dog and then met Jane without having gone home after work. This is sloppy, something the author and her editor(s) should have noticed, especially when the inconsistencies occur within a minute of each other. It is also weird for two characters to share the same name. The bartender, who is a minor character, is named Ryan, the same name as the detective in the case. This doesn’t really cause any confusion, but it does seem strange to me when the author could have chosen so many other names.
I appreciated the audio performance of Kelly Clare, who does a terrific job with accents. My experience is that British narrators often have difficulty with most American accents, and accents figure importantly into this book, as Gemma comments on people’s accents. However, Clare does a good job of adjusting her character accents. She also is well-suited to play the part of Gemma.
Despite my stated concerns, I really loved Elementary, She Read. People familiar with the Sherlock Holmes books and stories will appreciate this book the most. Delany clearly is well-versed in not just them, but also the various pastiches and especially likes to reference the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, which made me smile. I give this book five stars!
To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.