AFFECTS ON A BRILLIANT MIND : SHERRY THOMAS’ LADY SHERLOCK

Rachel R., who co-leads the 7% Solution Book Club, wrote about Sherry Thomas’s new Lady Sherlock book and Holmes adaptations ahead of the release of the latest book in the series. 

Sherlock Holmes fandom has been active since the publication of the first short stories. It’s a commonly known fact that the only reason Holmes came back from the dead, for example, is because too many fans wrote angry letters at Arthur Conan Doyle demanding his return. These days, it’s almost as common to see a Sherlock Holmes adaptation as it is to see one of Shakespeare. What tends to make or break a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, in my experience, is not a supposed “faithfulness” to the characters or the cases (though that’s too often used as an excuse for lazy writing), but a thoughtful engagement with the world that Holmes and their ilk inhabit. Take Elementary, for example; many of the cases, if they reference the original stories at all, do so in name only, and Holmes and Watson, though true to the spirit of their Conan Doyle counterparts, live in different places in society. They’re not gentlemen of leisure; the detective work is their livelihood. But what makes Elementary so captivating as a Holmes adaptation is the extent to which the show examines what someone with Sherlock’s capabilities would struggle with in the 2010s in New York City: drug use, mental health, et cetera. At one point Sherlock, speaking during an AA meeting, asks, “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been born in a different time…ours is an era of distraction, it’s a punching drumbeat of constant input, this cacophony which follows us into our homes and even into our beds…In my less productive moments, I am left to wonder, if I had just been born when it was a little quieter out there, would I have even become an addict in the first place?”

This attention to place and its effect on a mind as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes’ is no less acute in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, though she still resides in 1880s London. Charlotte Holmes cannot move about society, restricted by her gender, and instead pretends to be an assistant for her recluse brother, the nonexistent Sherlock Holmes. But this gender reversal doesn’t just serve as a story hook, something cool and new and different—there have actually been several Holmes adaptations in which Holmes or Watson or both have been women over the years—but instead Holmes’ gender fundamentally alters the world in which the story takes place. Holmes, no longer the aforementioned gentleman of leisure, desires and wants things from a world that does not immediately provide them: mostly autonomy, bodily, financial, or otherwise. At one point while trying to figure out her financial situation, Charlotte explains, “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.” These wants extend past Charlotte herself; she wants that for her landlady and confidante Mrs. Watson, for her sisters, and the many women of all classes that she encounters in the ins and outs of her cases. By changing Holmes’ gender, Sherry Thomas has done something that Arthur Conan Doyle was never able to do: she has made Sherlock Holmes altruistic.

Thomas is well acquainted with the significance of setting in her work. In her romances, both historical and contemporary, the setting often serves to inform the plot beyond mere contrivance. Her young adult fantasy novels, with their rich worldbuilding, still keep one foot firmly in the “real” world, giving each character who crosses over to the fantastical setting the gift of awe at seeing magic for the first time. It is a delight to be a bookseller who reads across genres, watching her become more and more refined in her craft, as she continues to interrogate what is important about stories, whether they be romance, or fantasy, or mystery.

Sherry Thomas will be at BookPeople Tuesday, October 2nd at 7PM to celebrate the release of the third Lady Sherlock book, The Hollow of Fear. The 7% Solution book club (which I co-lead) will be meeting directly before the event on the third floor to discuss the second in the series, A Scandal in Belgravia, before we attend the event together. All are welcome to join, whether or not you finished the book, although there may be spoilers for the first two novels. We usually meet the first Monday of every month at 7PM; upcoming discussion titles can be found on BookPeople’s website here.

MysteryPeople Review: A CONSPIRACY IN BELGRAVIA by Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, September 5th at 7 PM – the day of the release! You can find copies of A Conspiracy in Belgravia on our shelves starting Tuesday morning, or pre-order now

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780425281413I’ve seen some fine contributions to the Sherlockian oevre over the past few years of working at the bookstore. In the fiction realm, Joe Ide introduced his modern-day Sherlock, Isaiah Quintabe, in last year’s South-Central-set IQsoon to be followed by this October’s RighteousG.S. Denning showed up on the scene with his Warlock Holmes series, a truly bizarre Cthulu-Sherlock mashup; Laurie R. King followed up on her always excellent Mary Russell series by editing the anthologies In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes; Kareem Abdul-Jabar took us on a Caribbean adventure with his novel Mycroft Holmesfollowing Sherlock’s older brother on his first international escapades; Otto Penzler edited The Big Book of Sherlock Holmesa mammoth undertaking from Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; and so on.

We’ve also seen plenty of additions to the field of Sherlock studies. DK Publishing released The Sherlock Holmes Book, a visual and infographic guide to the world of Baker Street and beyond; Mattias Bostrom expanded his already-excellent work of literary criticism From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon for its US publication this summer; and Stefan Bechtel and Lawrence Roy Stains released their new biography Through a Glass Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of Alla heartbreaking tale of Doyle’s attempts to get in touch with his son, a casualty of WWI, via seance, this past June. And that’s without mentioning coloring books, children’s books, guides to Sherlockian TV shows, new classic editions of Doyle’s works, or any releases from prior to three years ago.

“In sheer authenticity and charm, however, nothing matches Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series.”

In sheer authenticity and charm, however, nothing matches Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series. With last year’s A Study in Scarlet Women, she introduced us to a series that straddles the line between gentle parody and respectful tribute to late-19th-century writing and social mores, as the observant and rebellious Charlotte Holmes leaves her stifling upper-class family, moves in with the merry widow Mrs. Watson, and starts her own investigation practice.

Charlotte sidesteps social stigmas by pretending to help her ailing brother, Sherlock, with the physical investigation necessary to solve cases, while attributing her success to his bedridden calculations. Charlotte gathers an able coterie to assist her – Livia Holmes, her dreamy sister, chronicles her cases, while she finds assistance in everyday investigation from Mrs. Watson’s mischievous niece, Penelope Redmayne. Meanwhile, the three women tackle the pressures of the London social scene, either turning down proposals, or pining away with the other wallflowers.

Thomas’ second in the series, A Conspiracy in Belgraviais a comedy of manners worthy of Jane Austen and an elegant puzzler that would please Agatha Christie. Sherry Thomas came to fame for her skill in crafting historical romances – a talent that shines bright in the witty repartee and playful skirting of propriety that grace the pages of her second mystery.

Charlotte begins the novel with a visit from Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of her benefactor, friend and sometimes-love-interest Lord Ingram. Lady Ingram seeks information regarding her long-lost lover from before her marriage, who has failed to notify her of his continuing health and happiness, as he has done previously each year of her increasingly unhappy marriage. Charlotte is torn between her duties to her friend and her client, exacerbated by the discovery that Lady Ingram’s former lover is Charlotte’s illegitimate half-brother (and that’s just the first gasp-worthy moment!).

Charlotte faces further complications when she receives yet another proposal from an old suitor, despite her rejection by Society – one who promises to pass along the most puzzling cases he comes across in the Queen’s employ, as long as Charlotte gives up her practice as Sherlock Holmes. Will Charlotte find her half brother? Will Lady Ingram and Lord Ingram reconcile? Will Livia Holmes ever be happy? And what number of chins, exactly, constitutes the Maximum Tolerable Chins so often discussed in the novel over oh-so-British confections?

While readers may get a more complete vision of Charlotte’s world by reading the series in order, I assure that A Conspiracy in Belgravia is delightful with or without background knowledge. Sherry Thomas will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this upcoming Tuesday, at 7 PM, so there’s plenty of time time to enjoy a long afternoon tea before coming to the signing. We recommend something with currants.

Sherry Thomas comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, September 5th at 7 PM – the day of the release! You can find copies of A Conspiracy in Belgravia on our shelves starting Tuesday morning, or pre-order now

MysteryPeople Review: DREAMING SPIES by Laurie R. King

dreaming spies

-Post by Molly

I have been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels ever since my sister pressed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice into my hands and, one Sunday afternoon, I finally read it. I immediately fell in love with the indomitable Ms. Russell and her adventures with her rather-older paramour, Sherlock, as they wandered across the world, putting the lie to Holmes’ rumored retirement and semi-permanent bachelor status, and solving cases for who-knows-which governments, in the province of soon-to-be-gone empires, for the benefit of the not-for-long wealthy and their soon-to-triumph underlings. In other words, Laurie R. King situates one of the greatest Victorian creations in the context of a steadily declining empire, and modernizes him by pairing him with an American-Jewish scholar-flapper well able to keep with with Sherlock’s complex cases.

In Dreaming Spies, Russell and Holmes are headed to Japan on holiday after finishing up a case in India. Upon boarding their steamer set for the South Seas, they soon discover that a blackmailer may be on board the ship, and he may have sinister intentions for those on board and those awaiting him at his destination. Russell and Holmes take some valuable lessons from a Japanese gymnast just returning from school abroad, and while learning all about the customs and culture of their destination, also begin to suspect their tutor in all things Japanese may know more about the mysterious circumstances of the blackmailer on the boat than she initially led them to believe.

The book is split into three parts: the journey to Japan, journey through Japan, and the later appearance of a Japanese visitor to Russell and Holmes’ country house in Britain. The book dedicates most of its space to the equally exotic environments of a luxury sea voyage in the 1920s (the last days of the great ocean liners) and Japan in the process of modernization yet still very much rooted in traditional practice. Without ever losing sight of the plot, King gives us charming digressions into such topics as the importance of determining one’s table mates for the duration of a long sea voyage, the vicious competition over train seats in an otherwise polite Japanese city, and the pleasant intermingling of Japanese and English gardening styles.

King, as always, has done her research, and Dreaming Spies is full of rich historical detail, much of it charming tidbits – the type of minutiae that end up in the end notes of the history books, but bring historical fiction to life. King’s latest is also full of intrigue, blackmail, spies, and of course, a healthy dose of murder most foul. You don’t need to understand the historical background of Japanese-English relations in the 1920s to enjoy Dreaming Spies – in fact, King becomes rather playful in the sizable conspiracy taking up much of the book, which by the end, reaches epic proportions.


You can find copies of Dreaming Spies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan

shadowsoverbakerstreetReview by Molly

Next Monday, September 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss the short story collection Shadows Over Baker Street. This anthology of terrifying and intriguing tales links characters from the world of Sherlock Holmes to the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. This means no less than a basic confrontation between reason and horror, logic and illogic, the taciturn and the unspeakable, forensic science and occult practice, and last of all, guns and tentacles.

How does Sherlock Holmes apply his unique talents of detection towards saving the world from the call of Cthulu? Each author takes their own approach. In some stories, Holmes finds himself out of his depth (and into the depths!). In most, however, he is unflappable as always, calmly preventing such calamities as an unsuitable marriage between a guardian of the underworld and her less hearty suitor (“The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Neice,” by Barbara Hambly), or the poisoning of London’s water supply by the monstrous citizens of Insmouth (in which Sherlock Holmes fights a crocodile).

This book is not just the Sherlock show. Watson experiences moments of the supernatural and horrifying, too, both with his companion and on his own. “The Weeping Masks,” by James Lowder, recounts an incident from Watson’s time in Afghanistan, pre-Sherlock. Elizabeth Bear‘s “Tiger! Tiger!” follows Irene Adler on a tiger hunt ready to restore order to the universe and defeat a weird fire-creature, sans Sherlock’s aid. Neil Gaiman‘s 2004 Hugo Award-winning story “A Study in Emerald” incorporates the strangeness of Lovecraft’s world into a fully developed Victorian Britain, with monsters pervading both politics and the arts. Gaiman’s story is the first in the volume, but Thomas, co-host of the 7% Solution Book Club, has suggested that to enjoy the collection best, read “A Study in Emerald” last rather than first.

Shadows Over Baker Street contains a full-on smorgasbord of Lovecraftian monsters, ranging from bee-creatures that mimic the appearance of those we most trust, to weeping zombies, to devouring hell monsters, all the way to the great Cthulu himself and the nightmares he brings. Tim Lebbon‘s story “The Horror of Many Faces” playfully reinterprets Holmes’ love of bees into a new horror, while Paul Finch‘s “The Mystery of the Hanged Man’s Puzzle” and John Pelan‘s “The Mystery of the Worm” explore the blurry line between science and alchemy when the supernatural invades the logical world. Each author in the anthology clearly glories in intermingling the language of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, and the word “unspeakable” appears just as frequently as “deduction.”

Shadows Over Baker Street is just one installment of a running series of short story collections with all original material set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike most of 7% Solutions reading picks, you won’t find this one in the mystery section – it’s shelved in horror anthology.

The concept of Holmes meeting Cthulu may seem rather incongruous at first, when one considers the king of reason solving mysteries involving none other than the epitome of unknowable horror. On the other hand, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft wrote at roughly the same time and in similar nations. Given the steady accumulation of fans willing and happy to write in the styles of either, the two worlds merge together well and bring to mind the early inspiration for both detective stories and tales of horror, the great Edgar Allan Poe.


The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Book Club members get a 10% discount on the month’s selection. Shadows Over Baker Street is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.