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A Study in Scarlet Women

February 15, 2017

28588390A Study in Scarlet Women
Sherry Thomas
Berkeley
(Library Book)

I realize that there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, of varying quality out there. And that some of them are going to be really, really bad. So picking one up is going to be a risk. And I realize that, within just over a month, I had read a Holmes pastiche where Holmes was a girl named Charlotte, so I may have gone into this with unfairly high expectations.

I also realize, after the fact, that this is the start of a series, so, if I were being really charitable, I would have to excuse some throat-clearing, some hitches and some setup time before they get on with it. And they do get on with it, in about the last quarter of the book. So there’s that.

But… wow. Oof.
I’m not sure what made me the most mad about this book. The pages and pages of Girl-Holmes family life, where the timing and sequencing of events weren’t terribly clear. So I couldn’t tell whether the fact that Charlotte Holmes was writing to Scotland Yard care of a nobleman friend was happening before or after she’d been disowned by her wealthy family… Or was it the way the mystery seemed like it was wandering around under a compulsory need to have twists and secrets, rather than any concrete architecture of plot? There were almost too many suspects, churned through and investigated one by one, their plots untangled and their alibis found, and onto the next one. It was methodical, in a rote way, not in a careful way. I read along, impatient for the crime to be solved and the mystery to be over, hoping for maybe a two-case book, where the first one was working the kinks out and the second one worked better… No luck. Just tromping dutifully through the suspects, plod plod plod. I don’t feel like I could go back and reread and see the suspect from the reverse, to appreciate the mystery’s structure. Bah.

No, wait, I know what made me the most mad: the fact that, even though I’d really started to hate this…. I couldn’t put it down. Especially in about the last quarter, I got hooked. Ugh! I still think it was really poorly constructed, and I did not enjoy the throat-clearing and plodding of the first two thirds or so… but I got hooked. Argh!

In the interests of not completely trashing this book, and justifying the hours I spent reading it. some bits I liked. I like the idea of Charlotte Holmes being basically everything Basil Rathbone is not. She’s fair-haired and rosy cheeked, with a sweet tooth, and a tendency to dress in ruffles and fripperies to an extent that’s even at the far reaches of what Victorians like. Sort of aggressively performed femininity, calculated even. In the characterization of Charlotte, it seems like both a calculation to get people to underestimate her, and something she actually enjoys. I appreciate that. I also found myself enjoying the way Holmes and Watson find each other, and how Watson is constructed as an older woman, herself a flouter of conventions. They even work Afghanistan in. And it’s not a spoiler, I think, to say that Moriarty is a factor.

I sat down to write this to vent my ire at the book… but I find I’ve mellowed somewhat. It wasn’t the best book ever, and it was a badly plotted mystery, and I’m probably not going to continue reading the series. But… there were bits that I appreciated.

Have downgraded from ire to merely mildly peeved. Make of that what you will.

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