Fri
Sep 1 2017 3:00pm

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas is the second book in the Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series (available September 5, 2017).

The second book in the Lady Sherlock series, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, had a lot to live up to. A Study in Scarlet Women, the first book in the series, was unflinching in its depiction of the period, morality, and perversion that can lie beneath the most respectable facades—as well as being a delightful and refreshing addition to Holmesian literature. This was the Sherlock I never knew I could have. 

Thank goodness for a blatantly obvious murder.

Conspiracy picks up where Study left off, opening the novel with a wry and immediate sense of what’s to come—though obvious the murder is not, as it turns out. Charlotte Holmes is settling into her role as translator to the fictitious Sherlock and delighting in the fact that she can make money from solving the puzzles and problems that walk through the doors of number 18 Upper Baker Street (and, of course, circumventing social norms by pretending to be a man that doesn’t exist). Her greatest concerns are her sisters, Olivia and Bernadine, still stuck in their parents’ house. Her determination to provide for herself and her sisters sets the stage for every action she takes and decision she makes.

It was not calculation so much as … the closest analogy Mrs. Watson could think of was that of a foreigner who didn’t learn English until and an advanced age. Through perseverance and a great deal of practice, the foreigner had achieved a passable grasp of the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of this mishmash of a language. But a conversation would always be a trial, what with all the idioms and quirks of usage just waiting to ambush the non-native speaker.

It’s a striking and apt description of Charlotte. Rarely does a character reflect my own bemusement with humanity to the degree that Charlotte Holmes does. Without a doubt, she is solid proof of the need for more women in fiction with unusual minds. Charlotte is not a machine, however, and her passions pass puzzles and pound cake, regardless of whether she wishes they didn’t. She’s harboring a touch of passion for Lord Ingram, who is unfortunately married. 

She’s hardly the only unusual mind at work in Conspiracy:

In some ways he was the antithesis of his brother. While Lord Ingram radiated physicality and magnetism, Lord Bancroft was devoid of any personal charisma. But instead of being forgettable, the consensus was that those stuck next to him at social functions emerged mere shadows of their former selves. 

His “blandness” consisted of a singular lack of warmth, a dogged social persistence, and a heavy application of skepticism. Livia had been his dinner companion once. She was obliged to answer questions for hours on end, from the Holmes girls’ practically nonexistent education to the minutiae of a parliamentary election in their rural borough, in the wake of their father’s unsuccessful attempt at standing for office. Lord Bancroft had demanded she source each fact and justify every opinion, while he played the devil’s advocate and asked why she didn’t believe the exact opposite of what she did.

Lord Bancroft joins those characters of the series taking up the mantles of their Holmesian canon counterparts in Conspiracy. Whereas Livia takes pen to paper as Sherlock’s chronicler, it’s Bancroft filling Mycroft’s shoes. Though none of the characters are mirrors to their counterparts—which is only further delightful to me—you can find the heart of them beating on the page. 

In keeping with all good mysteries, everything is connected. Sherry Thomas excels at quick remarks that later turn into vital details. Twisting interconnections in Conspiracy call back to Study with wit and precision. Wonderfully foreshadowed and intricately built, the mysteries in Conspiracy remind me of Russian nesting dolls. You solve one, only to find another waiting inside the first’s shell.

Conspiracy, however, pulls on the darker threads of the Holmes canon. In Study, we were treated to a whisper of the name of Sherlock’s greatest foe, but in Conspiracy, Moriarty’s shadow is felt throughout with great impact. Rarely does a novel leave me gasping in wake of a revelation, but Conspiracy had me diving back to the beginning to reference sections seen in a new light. This incredibly paced book, with its subtle salting of potential romance, comes off as a love letter to Sherlock Holmes while remaining on its own feet, supported but not overshadowed by the work that has come before. 

A Conspiracy in Belgravia is a more-than-worthy follow up to the first Lady Sherlock, and it has left me with a dire need for the next and the next and perhaps another after that. Sherlock fans and historical mystery fans alike should join Charlotte and her company of peculiar friends, allies, and shadowy enemies as she heads toward her next adventure and, I am certain, a face to face with Moriarty.

 

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Ash K. Alexander is a writer and freelance cover artist and book formatter. You can find her on Twitter @ashkalexander or at her blog,  https://ashkalexanderwriter.blogspot.com/

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