I mentioned having read A Study in Scarlet to my book club in a conversation about classics and someone mentioned having heard of a gender-swapped detective series of which the first book was A Study in Scarlet Women, so we added that for 2020. I accidentally borrowed the audio book instead of the ebook from the library but hey, it’s our nightmare of 2020 and I’m going for a lot of very long walks, why not give it a try. And reader, these are great audio books.
The core idea here is pretty great. The special thing about Sherlock Holmes has always been the brain and that brain can really go in anyone, so why not a woman. Enter: Charlotte Holmes. A young woman living in late nineteenth-century England, she has three older sisters, frankly awful parents, and a mind that bewilders absolutely everyone. Recognizing the very few options ahead of her as a young woman of elevated but not wealthy birth, she deliberately (if more publicly than she’d like) falls from grace and sets off on her own. With the help of a well-placed new friend, she invents the persona of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective” and begins to make her unorthodox way in a world largely set against her. It makes for fascinating storytelling.
Sherry Thomas has, as far as I can tell, invented all new cases for our Miss Holmes (though, for those who have read A Study in Scarlet, there’s a fun stinger at the end of the first book). There’s a swath of characters who are largely endearing with a couple of real standouts (we stan Livia and only want good things for her). Thomas has also done a wonderful job – at least through the first three books, I believe there are two more I haven’t gotten to – at keeping the mysteries in small enough circles that we aren’t meeting and keeping track of too many extraneous new characters. The narrator here is also a g-d delight who manages to pull off unique voices for a small army of characters that all genuinely stand out to me.
There are any number of parallels to the original stories. Mrs. Joan Watson (obvious), Lord Bancroft (Mycroft – and not directly related to Charlotte), Inspector Treadles (Lestrade, and utterly, if deliberately, odious for several books). But we’re not here for Sherlock, we’re here for Charlotte and the unique mysteries and problems she encounters. Brilliant, unflinching, and nearly devoid of emotion, she’s a hard character to relate to, but Thomas has made her someone you at least understand and clearly root for and really that’s all I needed.
While the mysteries do, by necessity of being a Holmes mystery, end up being complicated and multifaceted, their solutions are delivered in painstaking detail, which really helped for the audio book – I understood everything that had happened, no backtracking required. If you find yourself in need of entertainment while traipsing through town on your daily constitutional, you could do a lot worse than the Lady Sherlock series.