A Study in Scarlet Women (2016) by Sherry Todd
Charlotte Holmes has always been an unsettling girl--quick of observation and a bit lacking at first in the social graces. She knows one thing--she doesn't want to have to get married and be beholden to any man for her living. But forging her own way in Victorian society is no easy task and she has to make herself a social pariah before she can make a start. Meeting up with a rich widow by the name of Mrs. Watson, gives her the chance she needs.
Then there is a set of unexpected deaths and Charlotte's sister and her father each fall under suspicion. In an effort to dispel suspicion, Charlotte sends a letter under the name of Sherlock Holmes that points out certain discrepancies in the findings of the police and the doctors and soon finds herself consulted by Inspector Treadles of Scotland Yard (through a ruse where he thinks he's consulting her sickly brother "Sherlock"). It will be a desperate struggle to find the connection between the three deaths and to bring the crime home to the proper villain.
So....I like Charlotte Holmes a lot. If I separate out the part where we totally ditch Conan Doyle's creation in favor of Charlotte, then I really enjoyed the book and thought the mystery well done. I enjoyed the relationships between Charlotte and her sister, between Charlotte and Lord Ingram, and between Charlotte and "Mrs. Watson," I thought the development of Charlotte's character over the book was realistic and interesting and I very much appreciated the strong female characters. What don't I like? Totally ditching Sherlock Holmes in a Holmes story. So now we have a fictional character who is really the made-up "disguise" for another fictional character. Because we couldn't figure out a way to have a brilliant, unconventional female detective character in Victorian England without co-opting the most famous detective in all of mystery fiction.
I could definitely have gone for Charlotte as the unmentioned sister of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes (because women--like children were supposed to be seen but not heard in Victorian times). Or a cousin. I'm all for pastiches that build on the world and characters of an author--without damaging it in any real way. But I am a bit tired of modern authors completely rewriting Doyle's work. I've suffered through versions where everybody (including Mycroft and Dr. Watson) were in the pay of Professor Moriarty. I've read a pastiche where Mrs. Hudson was really a young hottie that Holmes was interested in (like Dr. Watson, who had an eye for the ladies, would have neglected to mention that little tidbit). I've watched Moriarty come back from the dead in so many ways and even had a few other baddies who had been reported dead reappear (because "we" couldn't come up with our own villain, apparently). Now we have a version where there is no Sherlock (as we know him), no real Dr. Watson, and no real Mrs. Hudson. I wanted to love this book--I almost do. But ★★★ and a half is pretty close.
First Line: Had anyone told the Honorable Harrington Sackville that the investigation into his death would make the name Sherlock Holmes known throughout the land, Mr. Sackville would have scoffed.
Last Line: Looking back at her, he said, "From the beginning, Holmes. The very beginning."
Deaths = (three poisoned; one natural causes