In setting up the prompts for Cannonball Read’s Sherlock Retellings Book Club I realized one of the parameters I use when deciding if something is a good retelling or remix: a good retelling for its own sake, needs to have enough of the original’s connective tissue without feeling like it’s been made using tracing paper. In the Lady Sherlock series Sherry Thomas split the various characteristics across several characters and I think it worked really well to not have direct analogs for the most part.
Its set in the same historical time-space, but she really broadens the type of characters we see from Arthur Conan Doyle’s. Thomas creates for her readers a female centric worldview, most of our main characters are women, and the machinations surrounding our main mystery and the side ones are also centered on women. Even of male dominated storyline (stupid Inspector Treadles) is focused on his fears surrounding his wife’s own ambitions.
There is plenty of allusions to Doyle’s Holmes – cyphers, lies, Government spies – but the book also suffers from what I don’t think is a Doyle problem: its slow and has at least one too many storylines. As in A Study in Scarlet Women Thomas uses three voices to tell the story: Charlotte, her sister Livia and Inspector Treadles. While it was always clear which character is delivering the narrative, they didn’t always line up, or feel equally strong. In fact, the storyline surrounding Treadles, which backs up to the main death Charlotte ends up investigating, felt like a serious afterthought. My other problem is that the pace of this novel just died in the second third – there was too much retreading of covered ground and a lack of links to the main narrative.
I do quite enjoy Thomas’s Charlotte Holmes and her cavalcade of Doylesian characters and will continue with the next in the series The Hollow of Fear as I do enjoy a good twisty mystery, even if the twists aren’t always entirely earned.