By Katherine Addison
Someone had recommended The Angel of the Crows as Sherlock fanfic with the serial numbers filed off, and as Rebecca pointed out, they weren’t filed off much. For me, though, this had the benefit of the book feeling immediately comfortable even in the unique setting. Set in an alternative Victorian Era, angels guard most of the public spaces of London, while their fallen numbers rampage in war zones. Doyle has returned from war in Afghanistan (a depressing constant) with incapacitating wounds and a couple of secrets that are slowly revealed over the course of the book, and finds housing with the titular Angel of the Crows, who solves mysteries to pass the time and keep London safe.
Doyle, of course, quickly gets roped into assisting the angel Crow, and both of them are so eminently likeable with their various flaws and idiosyncrasies, and their relationship was so sweet, I could have read twice as many stories of their adventures. Crow’s lack of understanding of many human traits makes much more sense and is much more sympathetic, coming from a literally unearthly being. Addison also builds off of a variety of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous stories, including the Hound of Baskerville and the Speckled Band, and I really enjoyed seeing the reinterpretations in a world where werewolves and vampires exist openly.
Rebecca read it first and warned me that the book has very episodic plotting, with many shorter cases solved within the arc of the longer Jack the Ripper investigation. Knowing what to expect, I read the book somewhat like a collection of short stories, and found that especially accessible, too. None of the mysteries were as complex as one would get in a single dedicated novel, but I could read one each night and then set the book down satisfied. It’s been such a nice end to my day all this week that I’ve got a bit of a book hangover now, even though my to-read stack is towering.
Before I started writing this review I searched through our past blog entries several times, because this seemed like such an “us” book that I couldn’t believe one of us hadn’t already written about it. It’s a lady Sherlock Holmes! A Study in Scarlet Women is the first in a series of (currently) three books by Sherry Thomas about Charlotte Holmes, a brilliant woman who throws off the constraints of her conservative Victorian family and starts solving mysteries.
Overall this is a quick, enjoyable genre read but there were a couple of things I really appreciated about it.
- Friend of the blog Jo originally made this observation, but there is not a one to one character match. There are plenty of parallels with the original Holmes stories, but Thomas constructs a world around Charlotte that makes sense and doesn’t try to wedge everything into exact characters and relationships when another arrangement offers more insight into her characters. So you get the fun of seeing the connections, but it doesn’t feel the author has just renamed characters from the original work.
- Charlotte is portrayed as exceptionally smart and deductive, but not superhuman. As a woman raised in a sheltered environment, she has to learn lots of things and, as the story moves along, all of the different characters in her orbit contribute to her detective work. Sherlock Holmes is traditionally this lone genius who is completely self-sufficient when it comes to solving mysteries. I liked the slightly more realistic idea that even a genius isn’t going to know everything right out of the gate and might gladly rely on friends and family for help.
- Thomas is known for her romance novels, and there is a bit of that sensibility here, just in that the relationships in the book are treated with a lot of respect and are central elements to the story. Love is as important here as figuring out who committed the murders.
Kinsey’s Three-ish Word Review: Fun, feminist mystery
You might also like: The Deanne Raybourne mystery books–I particularly like the series that starts with Silent in the Grave. And they’ve got a slightly different feeling, but I also enjoyed the Ruth Galloway books by Elly Griffiths, starting with The Crossing Places.
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
I first heard about this novel on NPR and was intrigued by reading a novel about Sherlock Holmes’ older (and canonically smarter) brother and, quite frankly, by reading a novel by one of the greatest basketball players ever. In the NPR interview, Abdul-Jabbar says he’s been a lifelong fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and it really shows in the details of the novel.
Mycroft is also a really excellent character to expand upon, since he was only roughly sketched out in the original Sherlock Holmes Stories. This novel starts with a 23-year-old Mycroft, fresh out of university and working a mid-level government job with mid-level ambitions to marry his charming fiancé and settle down in a cottage in the countryside. The authors are able to basically build the entire character from the ground up, establishing the origin story of how he becomes a puppet-master behind the English government.
Mycroft, along with his close friend, Cyrus Douglas, an African Carribean shopkeeper, are first introduced in London, and my one quibble with the story is here. The introductory scenes include overly meticulously described action that bogs down the pace of the prose. I believe the explanation for this lies with author Anna Waterhouse, whose background is in scriptwriting. It very much reads like someone describing a movie scene, which can be tedious on the page, but also made me imagine what a terrific movie this novel would make.
The story really picks up after Holmes and Douglas get news of children being brutally killed in Douglas’ homeland Trinidad, which incidentally is also the home of Holmes’ fiancé. Holmes and Douglas go to investigate, and the action and suspense are skillfully done. The setting of Trinidad is fascinating, with a large mix of different cultures and society levels. The authors also explore themes of race and slave-culture in a time when slavery was legal in some countries but not others.
By the end, I was so engaged that I quickly checked to see whether a sequel was in the works before I remembered that this was only released in September. I very much hope that a sequel will come eventually, though — and possibly even a movie?