The Need to Know: Sherry Thomas is such a great writer and you and I need to read all of her books now.
I’m a big fan of most literary retellings. I love it when beloved literary institutions are melted down and re-shaped into something new—without completely losing the spirit of what made the initial text so beloved in the first place. In today’s market, it seems that Sherlock Holmes’ retellings are particularly prolific, but Sherry Thomas still makes hers unique, fresh, and captivating in A Study in Scarlet Women.
It’s England, 1886. Charlotte Holmes has always struggled with how to relate to others. She’s been gifted with “discernment,” a gift which is not always welcome when she shares what she has discerned with others. She also doesn't want to marry. Let’s see, how does she put it? Oh yeah: “I do not like the idea of bartering the use of my reproductive system for a man’s support—not in the absence of other choices.”
When her father breaks his promise to allow her to continue her education, Charlotte determines that the only way out of her stifling home is to be ruined by a married man. She succeeds in her mission, but news of her ruin is unexpectedly spread thanks to the man’s mother, Lady Shrewsbury. Charlotte’s parents determine that they will exile her, but Charlotte sneaks out of her home before they can and seeks her fortune alone in London.
But there are a couple of big problems. One, everyone seems to know what happened, thanks to the man’s mother, Lady Shrewsbury. Second, Lady Shrewsbury died the day after Charlotte was ruined, and members of society look upon Charlotte's sister, Livia, suspiciously. But Charlotte has noticed that two other members of the upper-class have fallen prey to similar deaths as Lady Shrewsbury, so she writes to a newspaper as Sherlock Holmes, an alias that she infrequently adopted earlier to help with other mysteries.
Charlotte/Sherlock’s official detective career is born, and the stakes are huge. If she fails, her sister will forever be suspected of a crime, Sherlock will be disgraced, and she, Charlotte, will be left with a stultifying job that doesn’t fulfill her.
Along the way, Charlotte joins forces with Mrs. Watson, a maternal, wise, and inventive woman who takes in Charlotte when she needs help most.
That's what I adored most about A Study of Scarlet Women--how ingenious and strong the women are. Charlotte doesn’t take her independence in the manner which I would have most liked (I couldn’t help thinking about and sympathizing with the man’s wife), but she is determined, brilliant, and caring, and I rooted for her later success. Without getting into the specifics, the friendship that she finds with Mrs. Watson--another outsider--is an inspiring reminder of how women help each other.
And the writing in this novel is fantastic. I found myself highlighting various lines, like this gem of Mrs. Watson’s: “Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.” Oh, okay, that's only a fabulous piece of advice that I should have a print of so that I can remind myself every day....
This was such a fun, bold (and, at times, even sensual) read, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.