If you’re a devotée of the Sherlock Holmes canon, you may well think A Study in Scarlet Women is one of the best books you’ve ever read. If you’re not that familiar with the erstwhile detective, you can hardly be blamed for your confusion as you wallow through the first half of the book. In fact, I found it so helpful to read the Sherlock story that inspired it, that I then read this book again, and it made ever so much more sense, the second time around!
The first quarter of this book is primarily a set up for the action to come later. Nearly halfway through the book, it begins to come truly alive. We meet Mrs. Jebediah who invites Charlotte Holmes to share her tea. What a terrific character she is! Before this time, I found it all to be rather a mish-mosh, and difficult to understand where it was going. Mrs. Jebediah is unveiled as actually being the widow, Mrs. John Watson, and all of a sudden things start to click. Especially since Mrs. Watson lives on Upper Baker Street, but at 18, rather than 221B. Or maybe she’s really someone else, it’s rather hard to tell at times. (I should perhaps advise that I read an uncorrected proof of an e-book version, which is not exactly conducive to turning back to find a reference that flew past too speedily to be retained. Not my favorite way to read.)
Charlotte is the epitome of female pulchritude, much to her dismay, as it’s really her incredible brain of which she is most proud. It is, you see, very like that of Sherlock, whom she claims as a distant relative, or even on occasion, a brother. She is possessed of an ‘extra’ sense – that of discernment – of the type that allowed the ‘real’ Sherlock on being presented with an ash from a cigar or perhaps a stray hair from someone, to almost immediately identify a multitude of identification factors from it. She considers herself to be an aloof observer, a creature of silence, happy to live entirely inside her own head.
There were three deaths that occurred almost simultaneously – two women and one man – with seemingly no connection between them, but Inspector Treadles believes them to be affiliated in some way. He longs to ask the great Sherlock Holmes for assistance, but is told the man is too ill to be bothered. However, Charlotte is tangled in this web and longs to clear up the gossip that threatens her family because of their involvement.
With the wonderful assistance of Mrs. Watson, the two of them establish an office for Charlotte’s Consulting service, much like that of the great Sherlock. With a bit from here, and a piece from there, and a stray word or two from various sources, all the pieces of the puzzle neatly fall into place. She is more than happy to share her conclusions with the Inspector, allowing him to take credit for solving the various puzzles.
It is indeed a well-written book, with a matchless dénouement! I look forward to the next escapade of Charlotte and Mrs. Watson. I think you will, too.
First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Berkley. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.