A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical, retelling
Format read: paperback
Rep: autistic coding, fat rep
Rating: planchet-3

Confession: I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t enjoy the source material. I don’t like the show with Benedict Cumberbatch. I have to be in the right mood to watch the Robert Downy Jr. movies, which only strikes about once a year.

BUT, I am always on the lookout for a historical mystery. I think the world needs more of them, especially stories that aren’t heavy on the romance.

I devoured Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy in about a week, so when I found out she’d also written a series of historical mysteries with a female lead who was autistic-coded, I put them on my TBR.

Which of course meant it took me two years to get to them. Anyway…

Charlotte Holmes doesn’t understand people, despite the way she’s spent her life observing them. Encouraged by her father to engage in Society before dismissing it out of hand, she casts off her favorite plain cotton dress for the frills and frippery of the drawing room, reining in her love of sweets to get her tightly-cinched waist down to acceptable proportions, and learns to make the dreaded Small Talk. While she finds she enjoys the textures and colors and shapes of fashion, she still can’t see herself as Lady this or that, but when she asks her father to uphold his promise to allow her to pursue her education instead, he declines.

Hurt by the betrayal, Charlotte hatches a plan: She arranges to have herself deflowered by a married man (so she can’t be forced to marry him) then blackmail her father into paying for her education to get her off the marriage market.

Thing’s go sideways, however, when her paramour’s mother walks in on them, publicly announcing the embarrassment to the world and ruining Charlotte’s plans. Now she has no leverage and her parents want to send her away. She does the only thing she can: she sneaks out and decides to live on her own, despite having little money and fewer prospects.

When Lady Shrewsbery, the sharp-tongued matron who ruined Charlotte’s plan, turns up dead the next morning, however, it’s Charlotte’s beloved sister Livia who is implicated, after taking Lady Shrewsbery to task for her actions in a drunken rage.

The 3rd person narrative flips back and forth between Charlotte, Livia, and Inspector Treadles, very much in the Sherlock Holmes style.

For me, this made it very hard to follow and hard to get immersed in the narrative, which is why I only rated it 3 stars (actually, it’s 3.5, but I don’t have a graphic for that and Goodreads does’t allow half stars). If you pick up this book, definitely plan to read it in one or two sittings; breaking it into 20 minute segments makes it very hard to follow the story.

I’ve read several Sherlock short stories, and this book keeps the spirit of the feel of the stories without the obnoxious characters. I really hate books where you have a semi-useless narrator describing the actual main character (think The Great Gatsby). I loved all of the characters and descriptions far more than in the original, and really want to read more about Charlotte and Livia. I also loved Mrs. Watson, a former actress who spearheads Charlotte’s impersonation of the male detective.

I have been told that the 2nd book, Conspiracy in Belgravia, is better than the 1st book, so if you have difficulty with Scarlet Women, maybe reserve judgement until you’ve read the second book.