I’ve mentioned before the special place in my love of historical mysteries that’s reserved for pastiches of the Sherlock Holmes stories, although it’s rare I find a series of those that completely works for me. I’ve been meaning for quite some time to look into the various series set in Victorian times, but in which one or both of the protagonists has their gender switched. Consequently, this book, with both a female Holmes, and later on a female Watson, was bound to appeal. Obviously, there’s more to creating a gender-switch pastiche than simply changing the names and outward appearances of the characters, particularly when considering the era in which the stories are set, so I was equally interested in how the protagonists were going to deal with the restrictions placed upon women by Victorian society.
Charlotte Holmes is not a conventional Victorian miss and has asserted her right to remain single from a young age, extracting a promise from her father that if she takes an interest in pursuits suitable for a young lady, yet is still unmarried by the age of 25, then he will supply her with the money required to pursue her dream of becoming headmistress of a girls school. Recently, however, it has become apparent that Sir Henry Holmes has no intention of keeping his side of the bargain, and so Charlotte sets out to make herself unmarriageable by creating a scandal.
The plan doesn’t work out as intended, and Charlotte is thrown out of the house in disgrace, with only her younger sister staying supportive in the face of society’s condemnation. Ever resourceful, Charlotte secures lodgings and sets out to find work as a typist, although it’s not long before the scandal catches up with her again. Meanwhile, several unexpected deaths have occurred, all involving people who have quarrelled with Charlotte’s father or sister. No stranger to helping the police – Charlotte’s friend Lord Ingram is friends with a Scotland Yard detective, to whom he has previously passed on advice from his other friend “Sherlock Holmes” (Charlotte, of course) – she sets out to discover the truth and protect her family from a second scandal.
Along the way, Charlotte teams up with Mrs. Watson, a former actress whose husband was killed in the war with Afghanistan. The pair manage to work an elaborate deception in which “Holmes” is an invalid, unable to meet his clients, while his sister (Charlotte) conveys messages to and from the sickroom in order to solve puzzles. This set-up worked really well for me, as did the subtle ways in which clues were overlooked by some characters and spotted by others due to their different stations in society.
All in all, a fun book and I hope to see more of this particular Holmes and Watson in the very near future.
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.
Read an excerpt.