A Study in Scarlet Women

by Sherry Thomas
Reviewed by SA

I absolutely love the character of Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, watching the shows and movies that were inspired by the character, ever pretending I could solve a mystery like him, too. So when I got a hold of this new series, I was skeptical: I have read many ‘female Sherlock’ stories, and almost all of them disappointed me. But this time, I think we have a winner: because this Charlotte Holmes manages to take the Sherlock trope and somehow make it entirely new again. I loved the book, and I loved her.


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.

Let me dismiss a few expectations right now: no, this is NOT a rehash of Study in Scarlet. Watson is not looking for a roommate and stumbling upon a genius detective and a case that needs cracking. This story is completely different, and completely new. The similarities are in some parts in name only, or incredibly subtle. In fact, if this book wasn’t being advertised as being Lady Sherlock, you wouldn’t see it all at once.  Right then, let’s move on!

The story opens with Charlotte Holmes being publicly humiliated, caught in the bed of a married man. Hello! She only intended to make herself ineligible for marriage, to force her family to pay for an education she could not be able to afford otherwise. But with the public shame, she’s now an outcast and a social pariah. If she wants to make her way as in independent woman in victorian London, she’s going to have to find herself a source of income, and fast. But with her genius mind, that shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

There seemed to be many stories going on here at once: the murders, which have left the inspectors baffled, and the story of Charlotte, a young woman trying to make her way in a world where women must know their place. I was fascinated by the steps she had to take, first to distance herself from the institution of marriage, and then just to get a job. It made me very glad to be living in the 21st century, where I can go to university to study physics and entirely fund my own education. And wear pants.

The mystery itself was a little slow paced, but I loved Charlotte’s insight as Sherlock. With the help Mrs. Watson, they establish a little scheme to allow Charlotte to take on cases while pretending her ‘brother’ Sherlock was ill. Every little deduction is incredibly clever, though required thinking as a victorian. In the end, the resolution of the crime came tumbling all at once, but it all made incredible sense, and tied in neatly with the ‘original’ Study in Scarlet. It was so clever!

While I loved Charlotte, I had to say that at times her character was a little inconsistent. She’s a genius, and yet doesn’t always see very far ahead. She’s a little stubborn and headstrong, rushing into some actions without thinking them through. And yet, she’s so relatable. Her love of food echoed my own.

So if you want historical fiction that will have you feeling like you’ve been plunged into the period, and a fantastic lady protagonist with genius intelligence, while at the same time a tribute to Sherlock Holmes? Then you’re going to want to read this book.

Only downside: we’re going to have to wait quite a while for the sequel to come out! Curses!

I received an Advance copy of this novel from Berkley Publishing. Thank you, BerkleyPub! 

Side Note: Charlotte’s story made me think a lot about The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Fowles), only with Sarah had been a little more proactive.