At our latest Land Mermaid meeting, we met for Mexican food (and also discussed this book). We tried out a new taco place in town, and it was disappointing. My tacos were so tiny, and I am a hungry person. They sat the plate down, and I was immediately distraught by the three tiny tacos before me. My friend next to me got nachos which was a heaping pile of deliciousness that filled her entire plate, and I stared at them in jealous wonder. The tacos were not bad, just so, so small. Oh well. Lesson learned. Thankfully the book was a much bigger success than the tacos.
Title: A Study in Scarlet Women
Author: Sherry Thomas
Published: October 18, 2016
Format I Read: Kindle
Synopsis: Never quite fitting into Victorian society, Charlotte Holmes makes a series of choices that end up causing her to be a social outcast. Soon after, her family comes under suspicion regarding three peculiar deaths. Charlotte may not understand societal norms, but her brilliant mind and highly tuned abilities of deduction make her a perfect detective. Too bad she’s a woman. Under the guise of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte makes a name (albeit a false one) for herself in London as she races to solve the crimes and clear her family’s good name.
Thoughts: I ended up liking this book quite a bit, but I did not enjoy it starting out. It took me quite a few chapters before I settled into the story. Thomas tries some of the back and forth between present day and past events, and it just didn’t work for me. It felt clunky and confusing. After she muddled past the obligatory set-up, it finally began to flow. It clicked for me once she launched into Charlotte’s life alone in London and the actual mystery, which was brilliant. Three seemingly unconnected murders that she very cleverly tied together in the end; an end I did not see coming at all. My first thoughts while reading were that I would never pick up another book in this series, but after finishing this one, I could see myself reading more. Now that Thomas has established the characters, she can focus on the mystery which she did very well.
Charlotte was an interesting main character. I felt like Thomas may have actually written her as someone with an autistic disorder even though that is never mentioned. Charlotte was non-verbal for a large part of her early childhood and was completely unable to understand social conventions and interactions. Her deduction skills and sharp memory allowed her to slowly piece together the way that she was supposed to behave and interact. As an adult she spoke about how she would never understand certain “normal” interactions but that she had basically just taught herself how to perform based on society’s standards.
The thread of strong women is woven throughout the whole book. Charlotte uses her mind to make a living, and in her day and age, that was rare for women. She is befriended by an older widow who, despite having money, is shunned by regular society for having been a stage dancer and actress in her early years. The widow is kind to Charlotte when others are not and does not care at all about what the rest of London thinks of her. The police inspector’s wife chose to leave her upper crust family and marry for love instead of money or status. She even stuns the inspector when she tells him that she has dreams and ambitions outside of marriage (almost unheard of during that time period). There is also some romance included. This is Thomas’ first foray into historical mystery, but she is first and foremost a prolific romance writer. That really comes through in parts of the book. You can definitely tell the loving adoration between the police inspector and his wife along with the crackling tension between Charlotte and her possible love interest were written by someone with experience penning romantic scenes. I am still not entirely convinced that Charlotte needed a love interest, but I can see how it helps to further the story and, eventually, the series.
I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. My husband and I have seen many of the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films as well as other adaptations. I have read quite a few of the Conan Doyle stories. I adore the new BBC series. I was a little nervous going into this book because if my beloved Sherlock was besmirched in any way, I would have been very unhappy. Thomas, however, treated the character with respect. She deftly wove pieces of Sherlock Holmes’ canon throughout the whole story including characters and settings. I thought it was clever and well done.
In the end, I was happy I read this book even though it started out rough. I think it will be of particular interest for those who like a good mystery and don’t mind a period setting. If you can get past the first chapters and into the meat of this story, I think you will find it worth your reading time.