Dude Solves Mysteries Like A Lady: the Lady Sherlock Series / by Brenna Proczko

You can try to judge this book by its cover, but you'll probably miss a crucial clue, my dear.

You can try to judge this book by its cover, but you'll probably miss a crucial clue, my dear.

Imagine that Sherlock Holmes was not a chiseled cipher of a man, rude but brilliant, physically fit, mentally acute, and emotionally vacant. Not prone to running through streets, firing guns, or going on opium binges. Imagine that Holmes has a default expression of neutral yet hopeful sweetness, and a sweet tooth to boot. Analytical, yes, but perceptive enough to make attempts to follow the social conventions for conversation. 

Set in the same Victorian era as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories (which he wrote from 1887 to 1927, so the early end), Sherry Thomas has reimagined Sherlock Holmes as not only not a sociopath, but not a man. Lady Sherlock is actually Charlotte Holmes, who uses the nom de guerre to solve crimes with the same mental perspicacity as her literary (and cinematic and televisory) predecessors, only backwards and in heels with fantastic furbelows and ruffles. 

Thomas' version shows how a mind like a steel trap would navigate the strictures of society - seeking patterns, identifying opportunities, being baffled by how to get a job. Charlotte is not without emotion, but it's a subtle thing. I enjoy that Charlotte has emotional intelligence, and is able to use her perceptions to note not only that a character like Mrs. Watson is still grieving her late husband, but that she needs a minute to collect herself when reminded. It's an appreciated addition to the character. 

The world that Thomas constructs coalesces slowly, which is my main complaint about the first book (A Study in Scarlet Women). There is a prologue featuring the main mystery subject, which I totally forgot until I re-read the book. It takes about 30% of the book to get Charlotte set up in the scenario in which she is actually "being" Sherlock, and much of the active investigating is done by Inspector Treadles, who conducts painstaking interviews. It's a credit to Thomas' writing that things move along, if not apace, at an inexorable rate that allows for the development of all the fascinating people in Charlotte's sphere - her sister, Livia; her friend, Lord Ingram; her companion, Mrs. Watson; her police inspector, Treadles. In fact, Thomas finds sources of tension and interest between Charlotte and each of the others, as well as within each character's own sphere. We learn about Treadles' marriage from both Charlotte's observations as well as within his home; he becomes a character I really like, and respect, but ultimately have to just sigh at ruefully when his beliefs are challenged. Livia Holmes has to survive her home without her favorite sister; Watson gets to reinvent herself and rethink who she is in life now. Ingram slowly reveals through his actions how deeply his friendship with Charlotte goes (and maybe I have a crush on him, I know he's married, so am I, shut up). 

The second book (A Study in Belgravia) continues to build the characters, introducing Mrs. Watson's niece as well as Lord Ingram's wife. Plus we meet Charlotte's half brother (OR DO WE?) and Lord Ingram's brother, who renews his proposal to Charlotte. The main mystery of this book is introduced earlier than in the first, and is better threaded throughout. As in the first book, the resolution was a tad abrupt, but there are so many balls being gracefully juggled that I did not mind so much. 

Much of the pacing and resolution is actually borrowed from the original stories, which unlike modern mysteries are not sprinkled with clues that would allow a reader to solve the mystery before the hero(ine). And thus far, she has also avoided the catchphrases most associated with Sherlock while still absolutely capturing the blunt sharpness of intellect.

I think I've read everything Thomas has written, and I like the deft way she has with language. She sets up slow-burn romance as well as heat-flash sexy times in her historical romances, and she also wrote a young adult series about a mage destined to save the world (The Elemental Trilogy). She's yet to let me down, and look forward to seeing this series continue for as long as she wants to write it.