A Study in Scarlet Women is not a book I expected to like, not really. But yesknopemaybe’s review made me curious enough to download a sample and the writing made me curiouser enough to download and very nearly devour the book.
It’s not what I thought.
Charlotte Holmes is a woman of her times, but also a woman ahead of her time. She’s out of place in London and in her family; her mother is a creature of rages and her father believes her intelligence and ability toward deductive reasoning is a party trick to be trotted out when it amuses him. She’s also coded, but never clearly defined as neuroatypical (though one of her sisters is likely autistic, this is not a term the text can use as it’s not a term Charlotte herself would even know). Charlotte has plans to be headmistress at a school, which will bring her a yearly salary of 500 pounds, which will in turn allow her to support both her siblings so they are no longer at their parents’, nor any other relatives’, mercy.
Unfortunately, she chooses exactly the wrong moment and wrong man to establish herself as independent. Fortunately, things end up falling the right way for her, after a time, when she encounters Mrs. John Watson, who was widowed by a stray bullet in the Afghanistan war. And perhaps with a little assist from Lord Ingram.
Charlotte’s world is complex and finely drawn; there are three voices telling the story of the Scarlet Women (Charlotte/Sherlock, Olivia [her sister], and Investigator Treadles) and it’s always clear which voice is “speaking” to the reader. Each of their interior lives is as vivid as their exteriors, and each of them learns things about both themselves and the world around them in all its glory and brokenness throughout the journey.
I’m not usually a fan of gender swap for a lot of reasons, but I believe in Charlotte Holmes as a woman who would, of necessity, come up with Sherlock Holmes to get around society’s rigidity about women’s roles. “The Woman Question,” as it’s referred to several times in the text. I have mixed feelings about Charlotte’s description, and others’, of her appearance and eating habits but never enough to the negative to put me off completely.
Overall, I recommend this one to anyone who likes mysteries, is willing to entertain the idea of Sherlock Holmes as a sort of Victorian Remington Steele, and who likes strong characters with definite internal moral compasses that might not jibe completely with the world around them. I will definitely be picking up the next one with my next round of books (which I am not allowed to buy any more until I have fewer than five things on my “currently reading” list…)