Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas


Sherry Thomas’ new series heads for a fresh take on Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet Women. We break down what we like and dislike about it.

Surprise, surprise! This book did not appear on Culturess’ new books roundup for the week. We like to change things up once in a while, you know? Instead, we’ll look at Sherry Thomas’ first Lady Sherlock book, A Study in Scarlet Women.

The recipe for A Study in Scarlet Women goes something like this:

  • The most-portrayed literary character ever, Sherlock Holmes
  • Gender-flip both Sherlock and John Watson
  • Do a take on A Study in Scarlet, the first adventure
  • Add in surprisingly modern feminism
  • Throw in dashes of sexual tension

Somehow, this doesn’t end up being necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I found A Study in Scarlet Women good overall, but with a few issues of pacing that left for a slightly more mixed experience. Peg it at 2.5/5 stars.

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The Good

Often, Holmes remixes choose to have nods to the original canon from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Scarlet Women actually manages to pull out clever ones beyond just turning Sherlock into Charlotte and John into Mrs. Joanna Watson. Without spoiling everything horribly, because why would I do that to you nice people, the mystery of A Study in Scarlet gets turned and twisted quite well. Even better: Thomas then hangs a lampshade on it all towards the end of the book. (The lampshade hanging does not work as cleverly as much of the rest of the book, but there you are.)

Speaking of Charlotte, while the narration and her actions do have some divide, overall, she’s a fun character. We picture Holmes with dark hair and as being rail-thin. Of course his female counterpart is blonde, plump, and repeatedly described as ‘cherubic’. However, because she happens to be a woman with Holmes’ brain, that leads to some, well, issues. This is the 1880’s, after all.

Scarlet Women actually manages to pull out clever nods beyond just turning Sherlock into Charlotte and John into Mrs. Joanna Watson.

In terms of supporting cast, Mrs. Watson herself also shone. Poor Dr. John Watson doesn’t always get the best showing in media. (Case in point, though this isn’t a direct quote from any book or story: “Holmes, however did you deduce that?” “Elementary, my dear Watson.”) Mrs. Watson, meanwhile, takes charge. Unfortunately, some late developments could tarnish your opinion of her slightly.

As someone who typically enjoys romance, I don’t mind sexual tension, not even when there’s very little payoff in this first novel. I understand that this is going to be a series, so I’ll accept what we do get here.

The Not-So-Good

You can argue all you like about which genre wants good pacing the most of all, but mystery novels should probably have a spot close to the top, don’t you think? This book’s pacing gets wacky, which, as you may know, is a technical term. Multiple narrators (especially Inspector Treadles) and multiple tiny plot threads can confuse the reader easily. Don’t try and read before you fall asleep, because you may not remember everything in the morning, which would be an issue.

As an addendum, I understand the choice to do a take on A Study in Scarlet, but the choice to pull out a long flashback again could have been avoided. (The flashback comes earlier than about halfway through as it does in the original. If you get through that, you’ll likely manage to get through the entire book.)

Yours truly remains mixed on the occasional questioning of the status of women in 1880’s London. Sometimes, characters, particularly women, pull out surprisingly modern ways of expressing their feelings about their lots in life. In fact, Charlotte ends up being one of the scarlet women of the title, setting off the entire novel. The idea ends up being a good one, but the execution doesn’t always turn out well.

The Recommendation

Pacing, pacing, pacing. If you can’t stand a novel that gets a little slow, then oddly quick at points, you may not want to check out A Study in Scarlet Women. However, if you like Sherlock Holmes, and if you like gender-flipped takes, you should give this book a look-through.

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You can find A Study in Scarlet Women at your favorite bookseller.