It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, despite having encountered them almost by accident. As with Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, the charm of Charlotte Holmes more than makes up for the fact that I am not in fact nearly so enchanted with the original Conan Doyle stories. Since the moment I picked up A Study in Scarlet Women—even the title is a delightful nod to the series’ light-heartedness—I have embraced this slightly skewed but always entertaining view of the Great Detective.
I talked with Sherry Thomas when the previous book, Miss Moriarty, I Presume?, came out, and you can hear that conversation at the New Books Network. But whether you listen there or not, do read on to find out more about the series as a whole and the latest installment, A Tempest at Sea, in particular. And if you read madly all weekend, you’ll be ready when the book releases next Tuesday, March 14, from Berkley Publishing!
This is your seventh mystery featuring Charlotte Holmes. People who’d like to know more about the series can listen to our podcast interview on the New Books Network, but can you provide a short summary/refresher of who Charlotte is and how she becomes Sherlock Holmes?
Of course! Everybody under the sun has a take on the great consulting detective and the Lady Sherlock series is my entry into the wild, wild world of Sherlock Holmes pastiche.
Believe it or not, I’d originally intended for my gender-bent Holmes to be a teenage girl living in the suburbs of contemporary Austin, TX. But then my YA editor told me that mysteries don’t sell very well in YA, so I decided that I would write my Lady Sherlock for the adult commercial market. In order to capitalize on my historical romance readership, my Lady Sherlock mysteries would be set in the Victorian era, in the 1880s, the time period of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
But that was when women had very limited public roles. What kind of a woman would become a consulting detective? Wouldn’t her family object? And what about the general public? Would they entrust their thorniest problems to a female investigator?
But then her downfall turns into her salvation, as in this new wilderness she finds herself, and she encounters the lovely Mrs. Watson, former demimondaine, who encourages her to monetize her powers of observation and deduction. Who, in fact, puts up her own money so that Charlotte can hang out her shingle as Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. The nominal Sherlock Holmes is explained away as a bedridden invalid and Charlotte, his “sister” and oracle, then very logically receives clients on “his” behalf and leaves the house for investigations when such is called for.
And why does Charlotte board the Provence?
Professor Moriarty featured very little in the canon stories but has become an iconic character for any modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation. So in the first six Lady Sherlock books, those two potential archenemies orbited ever closer to each other, until things came to a head in book 6, Miss Moriarty, I Presume?
In the wake of those events, Charlotte has been lying low. Until she gets something of an irresistible offer—help the crown retrieve an important dossier of documents, and the crown will tell Moriarty to back off.
But this dossier proves harder to find than she originally anticipates, and her last lead leads her straight to the RMS Provence. She is in disguise, trying to find the dossier while eluding Moriarty’s minions. But during a storm-tossed night in the Bay of Biscay, a murder happens aboard the Provence. So now instead of investigating a murder, she has to try to avoid being swept up in the investigation as well.
One character we didn’t get to talk about during the interview, because we ran out of time, is Charlotte’s sister Olivia (Livia) Holmes. Livia is quite different from Charlotte in personality. How would you characterize her and her role in the novels? And what does she seek from her steamship voyage?
Charlotte is fearless and largely immune to peer pressure—she is Sherlock Holmes, after all. Livia, on the other hand, stands for all the wonderful women I’ve met in my life and career who do not see how wonderful they are and who have lost a portion of their self-belief along the way because they have for one reason or another been criminally undervalued.
Charlotte ran away from the oppressive Holmes household. Livia, however, is the dutiful, browbeaten daughter who has stayed. Their wonderful cousin Mrs. Newell invites Livia to accompany her on this ocean voyage. At the beginning of the trip, all Livia is hoping for is a lovely respite from her parents. But at the end of the books, she will be asking for a great deal more.
Trouble starts even before everyone boards the steamer, and Livia is the one who witnesses it. Who is Roger Shrewsbury, and how does he come into conflict with his future fellow passengers, the Arkwrights?
Roger Shrewsbury is one of the people Livia despises the most, because he unwittingly compromised Charlotte, leading to Charlotte’s exile from polite society. But he isn’t remotely evil, just a complete dumbass, one from a privileged enough background to have never really needed to grow up.
On the day of the Provence’s departure from Southampton, when passengers are gathered in the hotel lobby, waiting to be ferried to the pier, Shrewsbury simply can’t stop staring at Miss Arkwright. And when her brother—Mr. Arkwright, an Australian millionaire—angrily demands why Shrewsbury is so rudely gaping, Shrewsbury blurts out that it’s because he has seen Miss Arkwright before, as the centerpiece at a bachelor party—the naked centerpiece, no less.
Even today, in most places and most circles, this would be a bombshell announcement, let alone in Victorian England, where people covered up piano legs because they were, well, legs.
Needless to say, trouble ensues!
To Charlotte’s and Livia’s dismay, their mother, Lady Holmes, also finds her way onto the boat. What troubles them about her being there?
On a most visceral level, Livia is dismayed because it tries her soul to be around Lady Holmes, especially as the unmarried daughter Lady Holmes deeply disdains.
Charlotte, who is in disguise and does not have to deal with Lady Holmes as a dutiful daughter, is more concerned about how and why Lady Holmes has turned up on the Provence.
Lady Holmes has no use for foreign travel. And she has no money to afford tickets for herself and her maid. Yet here she is, on a steamer bound for Egypt and India. Who put her on the Provence and what is their purpose?
No Lady Sherlock novel would be complete without Lord Ingram Ashburton. He too is traveling by sea, with his children and their nanny. Will you tell us a bit about his contribution to this story?
This is Lord Ingram’s most prominent outing in the entire series. Charlotte, in disguise, has to maintain a low profile. Which leaves Lord Ingram to participate in the murder investigation in an official capacity, and we will be seeing a good bit of how it unfolds from his point of view.
Last but not least, we have Mr. Gregory, who is assigned to help Charlotte whether she needs him or not, and Inspector Brighton, who has been more adversary than assistant in previous books. What can you tell us about them?
Readers first met Inspector Brighton, a ruthless Scotland Yard investigator, in book 5 of the series. In this book he is headed to Malta to train the local constabulary in modern detection methods and the Provence happens to be his ride. So when the murder happens, the captain asks him to take charge of the matter.
Mr. Gregory is referred to at times as The Great Lover in the book. He is a very handsome older gentleman who has had a storied career as a seducer in the crown’s more clandestine services. 😀
I love this entire series, so I hope Charlotte will accept many more cases. Will she, and will you give us a hint of what mystery will occupy her next?
Thank you! I have just recently signed the contract for books 8 and 9 in the series, so there will be two more books at least.
And I wish I could tell you more about what will happen in book 8, but I am still trying to wrap my own head around what seems a very fractured plot at the moment. (No worries, it’s always like that at the beginning of a Lady Sherlock book.) But from what I have written so far it seems like Charlotte herself might be in a bit of trouble, as in she might have to account for her movements and whatnot to the police.
We shall see!
Thank you so much for answering my questions!
It is my very great pleasure. Thank you for having me and thank you for your support of the series!
Sherry Thomas is the author of historical romances, YA fantasy, and the Lady Sherlock series, which begins with A Study in Scarlet Women. Find out more about her at https://sherrythomas.com.
Photograph © Jennifer Sparks Harriman.