Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Updating the Sherlock Holmes Pastiche, with Historical Romance Author Sherry Thomas

There are many novels that take their inspiration from A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, filling literally shelves of the mystery collection here at Kingdom Books. They range from Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution to Michael Chabon's The Final Solution, and to the marvelous series from Laurie R. King that follows Holmes into his "golden years" through the eyes and sharp mind of his young wife Mary Russell.

Now Sherry Thomas, noted author of historical romances, provides a startling new version of Holmes as detective -- one that, like a Shakespearean play, inverts the gender roles, while at the same time weaving in our very modern obsession with the inner world of the finest minds of an era. And of course, because it's from Thomas's pen, A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN (a play on the original detective's tale "A Study in Scarlet") is lush with possible romance and alluring sensuality.

But let's begin at the beginning, with a young woman named Charlotte Holmes, who lacks the emotions that her sister Olivia fully experiences, but who has intense and amazing gifts of observation and analysis. Trapped in the highly gendered and class-conscious world of Victorian England, Charlotte contrives an audacious way to escape her parents' control -- without fully understanding how hard life can be for a "ruined" young society woman untrained, undereducated, jobless, and on her own (by choice).

I'm an ardent fan of the original Holmes narratives, and I also appreciate a good twist in the retelling, as in this adept female view of detection. Thomas's careful structure to provide a base for not just one book but an entire series -- the Lady Sherlock Series -- slows this first book in its first half. But by the midpoint, the suspense is riveting, the romance pulse-pounding, and the twists of the great detective's origin are pushing the plot. I could hardly wait to discover how Thomas would introduce "Watson" into this damsel-driven structure ... and when I realize the arrival of morphed versions of Mycroft Holmes and the evil mastermind Moriarty, I laughed in delight.

Here's a taste from when Charlotte struggles to explain her personal handicap to the new friend who'll soon guide her into a detection career:
"I learned early in life not to practice it in public. Or in private, for that matter -- people I know well are as easily disconcerted by it."

"Practice what, Miss Holmes?"

"Discernment, I suppose." Charlotte took a deep breath. "I can tell more about you, for instance, than you would want me to know."
After savoring Thomas's clever twists of the original story -- and realizing how, as A. Conan Doyle did, she's going to explain the difference between the new fiction and its predecessor -- I'm hooked. I'll be looking for the next in the series, as soon as possible, and chuckling for the rest of the evening.

The book released today, with the warm blessing of fellow author Deanna Raybourn, from Berkley Books.

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