Friday, March 16, 2018

Well-done Holmes! - A Study in Scarlet Women

As a rule, I stay away from Sherlock Holmes pastiches. I have read the tales of Sir Doyle's detective, dismissing all others who would use Holmes's name as unworthy imitations. Even in media adaptations, only two Holmes hit the mark: Cushing, who sadly played Sherlock too rarely, and Jeremy Brett, who is Sherlock Holmes.

I make my persnicketyness about this well-loved character clear so that you will understand me when I say that Sherry Thomas's feminine twist on Holmes in her new series, begun with  A Study in Scarlet Women , was excellent. She hit all the right notes of tone, period, and style without it feeling forced, overwrought, or overly derivative. Her characterization of her entire book's population was spot-on as we encounter discontented nobility, resentful and secretive servants, and inquisitive Inspectors. In some ways, she added to Sir Doyle's universe by addressing in more intimate and emotional terms the turmoil of households constrained by London Society, and elucidating as an organic element of the story the severe limitations of women outside of marriage. I wasn't hit over the head with a feminist message. It was simply an establishment of the world in which Charlotte Holmes, who advertises the deductive services of "her brother" Sherlock, lives. It was done superbly and without unnecessary fanfare to make her expulsion from society feel out of place, when it most certainly wasn't.

Thomas also contributed something meaningful to the tropes associated with Holmes, especially the odd and extraordinary nature of his mental faculties. Depicting Charlotte as someone who lives on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum was a master stroke. It made Charlotte's peculiarities more believable, and painted the specter of the Holmes created in this series as more human-more understandable in her extraordinary life, driven by facts and observations rather than emotions. At the same time, it helped to establish Charlotte as a woman who could not and would not live according to the rules of a society in which she perpetually felt alienated. This characterization created a greater sense depth for Charlotte and for her interactions with the rest of the people in the book.

I also greatly appreciated that Inspector Treadles (Lestrade) wasn't a joke. He was fleshed out both as a man and as an inspector. And by God, he was competent! That might be a first for the Scotland Yard pseudo-sidekicks who always get such short shrift in these stories. He needed only a nudge in the right direction, and he was able to hold his own in what was an immensely satisfying mystery.

That perhaps was the most pleasant surprise. The mystery of this book was top-notch. There were little cases amidst the broader case, which actually involved four deaths, and all of them felt right at home in the Holmes universe. They were certainly the kinds of cases the man himself would have undertaken, but they were all fresh iterations of the expected story-types and characters. This author is one who knows her stuff, and knows how to spin it well, to pull from the depths of something so tried-and-true and give us something new and exciting. The little hints of romance (which is all they were in this book) were just enough for you to notice, and only represented a minor shift in the tone of this mystery compared to Sherlock. Just enough to raise an eyebrow and leave you curious for more.

I don't know which part of my brain malfunctioned the day I decided to give the Lady Sherlock a try, but Thomas has something quite special here, and I'll be watching with a keen interest. The second book made its way to the top of my list in short order.

K Rating: 5/5

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoor
Me & the hubby a few years ago, inspecting the rooms at 221B Baker Street-of
The Sherlock Holmes Museum, that is.

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