Please note that I gave this book 3.5 stars and rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads.
Wow. I can honestly say that after reading "Stalking Jack the Ripper" I was hesitant to read another historical. My big pet peeve is when authors write something taking place in the Regency or Victorian era and have their heroes and heroines pretty much come ripped out of modern times with their thinking and speech. Those worries quickly vanished as I started "A Study in Scarlet Women." Based on reviews Thomas is a prolific historical romance author and she definitely has her time period nailed down. Do you know now happy I was to read a book where the heroine did something stupid (IMHO) and that she had to pay the consequences for it? That no one was all well you are so modern and awesome in your thinking we are going to totally pretend that you would still be accepted in Polite society. That said, there were still a few issues I had with "A Study in Scarlet Women" which is why I was only able to give it 3.5 stars.
The book starts off with Livia Holmes thinking of her sister Charlotte and what a strange child she was. What comes through with this though is that Charlotte Holmes is very good at figuring out things about people just based on how they talk, what clothes they wear, and even the way they hold their body. And then we are giving more glimpses into Charlotte Holmes when based on her deduction skills she is able to figure out what a Lothario her father is and why her mother is always angry. It quickly comes out though is that the Holmes girls (there are four of them) are lonely and Livia and Charlotte only have each other. The story shifts and move and then Charlotte Holmes is found having relations with a married man by the man's wife and mother. Due to one of the ladies being a huge gossip everyone quickly knows about Charlotte and when she is taken home her mother and father are also told. This leads to an ultimatum being issued to Charlotte that she is to be hidden off in the country somewhere which prompts her to run away from home, determined to get work.
From there the book moves onto a character named Inspector Treadles who is concerned that a man he has come to rely on while investigating cases, Sherlock Holmes, is suddenly ill and is not able to respond to entreaties made by him. Treadles uses a Lord Ingram as a go between for Sherlock Holmes and greatly admires both men. We may wonder why in the world Treadles is even in this book, but we quickly find out when it comes out that the mother of the man that was found with Charlotte Holmes is dead and this was after an argument between her and Livia Holmes. Livia is under suspicious when Sherlock Holmes announces this death, and two other ones are connected.
Is that a lot going on for a first book in a series? Yes it is. I also got why some readers ended up DNFing this thing because the first couple of chapters were so slow I found myself bored. Switching perspectives didn't help matters any either. I also didn't like that a lot of scenes happened off-screen. We had a lot of things referred to later that I would go, wait a minute, did I miss that?
I found the character of Livia okay, but we don't spend much time with her after the first initial chapters, we just get her letters that are sent to Charlotte after Charlotte escapes their home. We are then provided information about Livia in the last chapter of the book (she loves to write stories) and after finishing the book, I can see how that is going to play out in subsequent books. I wish we had some hint of that in earlier chapters, or heck since Thomas had so many shifting perspectives, she could have just went back to Livia at some point. Livia, just like Charlotte though has some of the same talent that Charlotte has for deduction, even though she is not as gifted. I would say though that Livia definitely reads people better which is what surprises me about Charlotte later.
Charlotte was written in such a way that many things contradict the character. Since Livia sees her sister as cold and due to her sister's talent odd, readers may first see the character that way. However, when the book shifts perspectives to Charlotte, we find out she is none of those things. She cares about her sisters, Livia and Bernadine, and is upset that her father broke his promise to her which caused her to seek retribution for that in a really stupid matter. Probably the big reason why I cheered this story though is that Thomas doesn't sugarcoat how the world is viewing Charlotte know based on her actions. And I for one thought that since Charlotte was so smart, she should have seen the flaws with her plan. Charlotte though great at deductions is also terrible at reading people's motives or even some people I found. So we get a really flawed Holmes in this one. And instead of addiction to drugs, we get one that is addicted to food which I am going to say, not a real fan of that whole thing at all.
Lord Ingram I found to be an intriguing character, and based on hints throughout the story and then the ending, I can't wait to see what adventure is coming up for the sequel. I wish that his backstory had been told in a straightforward way, I usually don't care for books that hint around about people and since the book flow was not great in this one, I think some people may have skipped over things.
I am going to say that the character of Inspector Treadles needs to be cut way down in subsequent stories. Even though this is supposedly a Lady Sherlock book, he took up a good portion of the story (at least 50 percent I would guess). We follow Treadles as he starts his investigations into one mysterious death that looks accidental and tries to tie two other deaths together based on what Sherlock Holmes has sent him in a letter. I do applaud this section of the book though, because it read like a very good Agatha Christie mystery. However, once again, it's supposed to be a Lady Sherlock book, so having Treadles investigate, go back to Ingram, and then we have a convoluted set-up to information being given to Treadles (which once again makes sense, because the police in this time period would not be listening to anything said by a woman) and then he is off to investigate and interview again. I just felt like I was reading two very different books and nothing really comes together until the end. And the book all of a sudden does show Treadles to be kind of...annoying when he realizes that maybe his wife had other dreams than just being his wife (I know, women with our passions and wishes) and acts as if his whole world changed.
We have other characters in this book that intrigues me, and guess what we do get a Moriarty reference that made me happy. We also get to meet our "John Watson" and I loved that character so much I maybe lost my mind a little bit last night and clapped.
The writing I found to perfectly match the time period in which the story takes place. I found that the characters in the book also reacted as many would in this time and place and I was happy to actually have some nuance showed for how people who were Lords and Ladies were treated very differently than people like the servants depicted in this story.
I am going to flat out say though that the flow for future books needs to be improved. The book had so many shifting perspectives at first that it was a little hard to understand what was going on. We start off with Livia Holmes, we are then introduced to a Lord Ingram who is friends with someone named Sherlock Holmes who has been a prime resource for an Inspector Treadles at Scotland Yard. Then the book focuses on Charlotte Holmes, and then we shift back to Inspector Treadles for a good long while, and then we jump back to Charlotte Holmes. And we also go back to mini-cases that are being investigated by Sherlock Holmes. It just didn't work at all. Any next books just needs to follow Charlotte and her "John Watson" in future books. Heck throw Livia in there if you must, but let's keep things to a main plot, with few character asides and it will work.
The setting of the story was perfect and everything definitely makes sense for that time period. I do wish though that we got more information about certain members of the ton. We read references to a good many people that I was able to keep straight, but as I said, there was a lot going on in this first book that I can see why some people decided to just step away from the book.
The ending provided a shocker (at least to me) and I thought the letter aspect confessing all was a little meh though. I found that due to the mystery aspect of things, we find out though Sherlock was right about things, the why was a little harder to get to, and I would think if this was a typical Sherlock Holmes book, he would have found out all in short order. But, I get why in this case why things were hampered by the fact that our Sherlock is a woman who really cannot investigate alongside the police. And i will say that the final reveal may be a bit much for some readers because it refers to some things that may be hard for some to read about.
Based on the last few lines in the book, I have a sneaking suspicion that the next book is going to be taking on the plot of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and I for one, cannot wait for it.