Brief synopsis (Goodreads): With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.
Rating: Left behind
Long story short (no spoilers): When I thought of a gender-bend Sherlock Holmes story, I assumed that the only thing that would change would be his gender, and that at her core, this reimagined character would still be Sherlock in her mannerisms and eccentricities. Sadly, A Study in Scarlet Women is not that kind of story, and that was disappointing.
Instead Sherlock—or rather Charlotte—is intelligent and extremely observant, yet lacks the traditional characteristics that make Sherlock Sherlock. She demonstrates empathy and a mastery of social skills, she isn’t narcissistic, she isn’t really stubborn, she doesn’t disregard authority, and she more or less conforms to social norms.
I understand that the author wanted to highlight the difficulties of a woman doing what Sherlock did in his time, however the tradeoff was that Charlotte became less like Sherlock. The book would have made more sense had Charlotte been a new character altogether—a woman detective working under an assumed name—instead of a watered-down version of Sherlock Holmes.
In addition, there are several instances where Charlotte makes decisions that don’t make sense given how smart she is. Some show a lack of common sense, which fits with the traditional Sherlock character, but others seem like their only purpose is to move the (slow) plot along.
Ultimately I won’t be reading the rest of the series, though I’m determined to find a good Sherlock gender-bend story. The next one on my list is A Study in Charlotte (man, everybody loves that name…), which is the first book in a trilogy.
Have any of you read either of those? Or have suggestions for other Sherlock spin-offs? Let me know! You can also keep reading for a spoiler review of A Study in Scarlet Women.
Long story long (spoilers): I always find it tricky to give a non-spoiler review of a book, because I like being able to point to places in the text that back up my argument (I did enough writing exercises in English classes to hit that point home).
Here are some specific issues I had with A Study in Scarlet Women:
- Charlotte could have skipped sleeping with a married man and jumped straight to running away from home. That entire drama was unnecessary (the death of Lady Shrewsbury could still implicate the Holmes family in some other way, and a daughter running away would generate enough censure on its own)
- Changing your name from Charlotte Holmes to Caroline Holmes is impractical; you’re almost begging to be found out. The book argues that Holmes is a common enough surname, but why would you take that risk? From Charlotte’s perspective, why not choose to work under a completely different name? From the author’s perspective, why name your protagonist Charlotte Holmes and not some other name?
- Inspector Treadles overshadows Charlotte quite a lot, making her almost a secondary character in her own novel. We’re also introduced to his wife, who seems like a complex character herself, but never does she interact with anybody else other than her husband, which is unfortunate. Maybe her relationship with Charlotte and Mrs. Watson will be explored more in the next book.
- Charlotte’s sister Livia is really annoying. She doesn’t like that women are confined to a very strict circle, yet all she does is whine about it. What this book needed in general was a “How to Get the Most Out of Your Privilege” lecture, because as part of society’s upper class, there’s a lot Charlotte and Livia could do to improve the lives of women in society.
I was so excited about this book when I read the NPR blurb about it, but it turned out to be disappointing 😦 If you read this book, what are some things you liked and some things you wish were done differently?