Books to Love: The Lady Sherlock Series
Sherlock Holmes seems to be undergoing a bit of a facelift of late. By ‘of late,’ I’m talking of the time from when Guy Ritchie landed him on the silver screen in the guise of Robert Downey Jr. to the present day. In one stroke, Sherlock melded with with Tony Stark to create the Ironman of the 221b Baker Street.
However, Sherlock’s makeover didn’t stop there. Sure, suddenly people were envisioning the violin playing sleuth capable of proper pugilism as well as deducing. But, there was more to come beside bartitsu.
In two words: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH. I believe we can all agree that the fabulously popular Masterpiece series breathed new life into the calabash smoking, deerstalker wearing Holmes. In a few episodes, the besotted public was SHER-LOCKED as Irene Adler would say.
Given all the frenzy surrounding the re-imagined Sherlocks of recent years, I must say that one has delighted me above the others. That one would be Charlotte Holmes, wayward, disgraced daughter of Lord and Lady Holmes, who has happened into the only course open to a woman with such a mind as hers in Victorian England— she, quite simply, has become a man.
I first met Charlotte in Sherry Thomas’ novel, A Study in Scarlet Women. Last year, my husband and two of my dearest girlfriends since high school (we call ourselves The Triumvirate because there are three of us and it sounds so cool. Dibs on Antony- a la Richard Burton… I digress)… Last year, they gave me a trip to NYC for my birthday for the purpose of attending a cocktail party hosted by The Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn. At said cocktail party, three authors would be in attendance: Deanna Raybourn (see posts here and here), Beatriz Williams (see posts here and here), and Sherry Thomas. As I had not read anything by Sherry Thomas, I looked up the book she would be promoting at the event; it was the second in The Lady Sherlock series— A Conspiracy in Belgravia. Being a sporting lass, I promptly purchased the first book— A Study in Scarlet Woman— blurb unread- and vowed to read it before the party.
Well, when I did read the blurb, I have to be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like the book. While I thought the idea was ingenious, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how Thomas could make a go of it.
I am glad to say, dear readers, my misgivings amounted to nothing. Not only is this series fabulously written, Sherry Thomas masterfully crafts the story to seamlessly transition from Charlotte to Sherlock with all plausibility. Everything, mind you EVERYTHING, makes sense.
As befits a Sherlockean type, Charlotte was rather difficult to warm up to; she is analytical to a fault, or at least, that’s how she seems. Even the scandal she finds herself embroiled in occurs because of her own calculated risk. While others around her may raise their hands in uproar over her seemingly unseemly behavior, Charlotte doesn’t strut and fret but accepts her lot with equanimity, silently packing her bag and absconding into the night with her new life before her, shrouded in mystery.
Possessing only a keen mind— and a keen appetite which enjoys its clotted cream smeared on its third scone— Charlotte embarks on an intrepid scheme. With the reluctant help of Lord Ingram Ashburton, her friend as well as secret agent for the crown, she finds herself in the middle of her first mystery.
Only there’s a problem. Scotland yard— and any other authority, for that matter— won’t take a woman detective seriously, keen mind or no keen mind. Alas. So, what’s a girl to do? Shimmying out of her bustle, stays, and copious flounces and into a pair of breeches that drive the reserved Lord Ingram sedately mad with desire, she becomes Sherlock.
With the aid of her newfound, compassionate friend, Mrs. Watson, Charlotte sets herself up in an apartment on 221b Baker Street, hanging a shingle— figuratively speaking— to advertise the private detecting services of one Sherlock Holmes. For most visitors, Charlotte is simply Charlotte Holmes, sister to the invalid genius, Sherlock, who interviews clients , takes thorough notes, and then confers with her brother on his sickbed to deduce the source of the crimes. This works for most mysteries, except for those few times when the clients happened to be people whom Charlotte knows from her precious life. Those times require a bit of theatrical legerdemain, but, no matter, Mrs. Watson was once a woman of the stage. If Charlotte can’t do it, Mrs. Watson’s more than willing.
But sometimes murder forces Charlotte’s hand and she must resign the drawing room interviews and plunge her arms up to the elbow in blood and excrement, as Balzac would say. Such sullied work is where the breeches come in— one could never befoul the feminine frills Charlotte so adores.
The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas now boasts two books, with the promise of more. I have read them both, and, dear readers, they are excellent.
Charlotte is a fantastic character. One of the things I appreciate the most about her is her very real foibles. Thomas does not try to hide them or over-emphasize them (both courses which trope frustrate me more times than not). Rather, she includes them because Charlotte is not merely a character out of a book; she is her own woman. I could easily imagine meeting her in a tea shop with a bountiful spread of cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and cream, and miscellany of patisserie pastries to cleanse the palate. Not more than three chapters in and I felt I knew her like an old friend.
AND— the all important conjunction— all her her actions felt correct to her character; they had integrity. Perhaps that’s my favorite part about this series.
Charlotte is unapologetically feminine in her style, and unrepentant in her almost masculine mind (at least, masculine in those times). Rather than bemoan the fact that women are considered less than men where their minds are concerned, she calmly contrives to find a way around the rules and strictures of society in order to pursue her passion. If we’re honest, women have existed thusly since time in memoriam. We always figure out a way around the obstacles.
Charlotte forges her own path, and to hell with those who don’t, can’t, or won’t understand- more glaringly, her mother.
If you haven’t given The Lady Sherlock series a read, I highly recommend it. If they don’t seem like your cup of tea, I would encourage you to check out the other offerings by Sherry Thomas. They are copious and variety.
Along with her foray into Sherlockean novels, Sherry Thomas also write historical romances and young adult fantasy series. How’s that for diversifying one’s portfolio? I have not yet plunged into her YA novels, though they are on that lugubrious pile titled Eirene’s To Be Read, I have read two of her romance novels. While I will preface this next sentence with Romance Novels aren’t my genre, I must admit to throughly enjoying Sherry Thomas’ historical romances. They are lighthearted and well-written, with the occasional allusion thrown in to make my heart flutter. If you want a little down time in your reading, where you’re guaranteed a happy ending, then check out Sherry Thomas’ romances.
Have any of you ever read a series that thoroughly surprised you? Are there any series out there that you’re longing to read, but have’t gotten the time to do so? Please, share them with all us Whiskers readers. The more books, the merrier— at least, that’s my motto.