Monday, July 13, 2020

Book Review: Murder on Cold Street (Lady Sherlock #5) by Sherry Thomas

Quite the Character Solves Quite the Mystery

If you’re new to the Lady Sherlock books, as I was, a sentence on their premise is appropriate. In the series, Sherlock Holmes is the invention of Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson so that the former can practice her trade as a private investigator in a time and place (Victorian England) when a woman would have been ignored. If that sounds like a promising foundation for historical fiction, let me say that author Sherry Thomas in Murder on Cold Street delivers on it fully.

I particularly liked our hero, Charlotte. She’s not constrained by the strict social mores of the time, often being the aggressor in her budding relationship with Lord Ingram Ashburton … although Ash is starting to catch up. She’s adept at reading the emotions of others, even if her own are stunted in most areas except those involving Ash or cake. And her fashion sense is truly outlandish. "Had his retinas not been seared by the Christmas tree dress, her dinner gown would have been the most outlandish thing he witnessed today.” And while that specific sentence may not make it through the final edit of the book, which is set for release on October 6, Charlotte’s audacious look will.

But plot drives mysteries for me, and this one has everything an intelligent whodunit should. At the outset, Inspector Treadles is apprehended in a locked room with two dead men. He’s covered in blood and armed with his service revolver, the apparent murder weapon. And yet, he won’t defend himself. A probable villain soon appears and the primary focus of the mystery shifts to piecing together a timeline and finding motivations. A crime scene that initially seems well contained—an empty house on Cold Street—ends up seeming as busy a subway station at rush hour. But by the end, Holmes, Watson, and their compatriots put it all together. There is even some well-turned commentary on Victorian race relations and a woman’s place in business, all of which resonant well with current times.

My concerns about the book were few and minor. In one case, it seemed that our investigators assumed the importance of a piece of evidence that, in real life, would have probably turned out to be irrelevant. Holmes shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions. As another example, the explanation of how and why two had died in the house felt a bit strained, like a one-in-a-million shot. But overall, the complexity of the situation and the way the pieces came together at the end more than offset these minor issues. Murder on Cold Street is an outstanding read, ready to keep you guessing till the very end.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author (Sherry Thomas), and the publisher (Berkley Publishing Group) for providing a copy of this book. I opted to write this candid review.

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