John's Reviews > A Study in Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
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Jul 05, 2017

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I was in the mood for a bit of fluff and, when I saw this on the NEW BOOKS display at my local library, I decided it would be an ideal fit for the bill. And in a way it was -- although the main mystery's solution involves some distinctly unfluffy elements.

Charlotte Holmes believes she'll never be able to escape the prison of her parents' possessiveness and their expectations that she'll live a conventional life as the wife of someone eminently suitable, so she engineers her own seduction by a philanderer and that they be caught in the act by a pair of society ladies who can be relied upon to gossip. Her father proposes to banish her to the country; instead she runs away from home and tries to find a job. (Query: So the seduction was unnecessary. Why did she bother with the stratagem, particularly since it estranged her from the man she loves?)

After vicissitudes, she gets taken on as a companion by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Watson, who encourages her to become a private detective. However, no mere woman could be taken seriously as such, so the pair of them invent Charlotte's hyperintelligent brother Sherlock. Clients are not allowed actually to see Sherlock, because he's recovering from a mystery illness; instead they must consult him with Charlotte as go-between.

"Sherlock's" first big case concerns three suspicious deaths whose circumstances seem to cast suspicion upon Charlotte's family members, notably her dear sister Livia . . .

There are some very nice bits of writing in A Study in Scarlet Women. Here's a sample:

[Charlotte] sometimes thought of her mind as bearing a certain resemblance to the post office, a complex system that sorted and conveyed packets of information with speed and efficiency. But at the moment her most prized asset was more comparable to an automobile, a machine liable to break down every few miles and strand the hapless motorist by the side of the road.


There are also, though, some very clumsy instances of what the author fancies to be 19th-century English usage, introduced primarily, I assume, for the sake of verisimilitude, while the idea of a stately home called Curry House (there was this Mr. Curry, you see) had me rocking with laughter. And from time to time there's a sense that the author, like a smug adolescent, thinks she's being a lot cleverer than she actually is. Even so, the tale moves along well enough that these and other irritations seem pretty minor in the overall scheme of things.
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July 5, 2017 – Shelved
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