Book Review: A Tempest At Sea by Sherry Thomas

In A Tempest at Sea by Sherry Thomas, Charlotte Holmes's life is in peril when her brilliant deductive skills are put to the test in her most dangerous investigation yet, locked aboard a ship at sea. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

My only regret in reading this dazzling novel is that I did not start the Lady Sherlock books sooner than here with this excellent seventh installment in the series. I have read plenty of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, many of above-average intelligence and charm, but I was simply blown away, as by the titular tempest, with the craftsmanship, cleverness and compassion used to tell this extraordinary tale.

Since her fall from polite society, Lady Charlotte Holmes has turned her hand to the career of a consulting detective. With some assistance from her sister and friends, she’s found herself to be quite good at the job, even if she has had to resort to assuming a man’s guise to do it. Unfortunately, that kind of success tends to attract unwanted attention, as her assistant, the former actress Mrs. Watson, ruefully reflects:

But she, who had first put the idea to Miss Charlotte to hang out shingles as Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, ought to have known that the simple act of helping people and finding out the truth could never be so simple. One person helped was another’s path blocked. And society ran on appearances, not truths. Unearthed facts revealed everything that had been buried with them, everything that those with appearances to keep, profits to turn, and powers to accumulate did not wish to see laid bare, dirt, blood, and all.


It was always going to be a dangerous career.

So dangerous, in fact, that Charlotte has had to fake her own death in order to escape the ongoing attentions of the ruthless criminal mastermind Moriarty. Fortunately, she might have found a way to come in out of the proverbial cold. Lord Remington, the man in charge of much of British intelligence gathering, will offer her the not-inconsiderable protection of his office if she can successfully complete one small task for him: discover the location of a secret dossier that is most likely being smuggled abroad by Prussian agents.

Charlotte is game, though she knows she has to lay low in case any of Moriarty’s people suspect she is still alive and are on the alert for her. Anyone could be in the kingpin’s employ, so when the dossier’s trail leads to the RMS Provence, Charlotte and Mrs Watson will have to book quarters under assumed identities in order to continue sleuthing incognito.

The murder of another passenger once the liner is well under way puts all of Charlotte’s plans in jeopardy. She’ll have to play a very dangerous game of cat and mouse, helping to bring the killer to justice and close the murder case quickly, without having her own secrets exposed by a long investigation. In this, she’s aided by several of her allies aboard the Provence, including her lover Lord Ingram, whose skills in taking shorthand have him quickly drafted by the inspector in charge to act as amanuensis on the case. Being in the thick of both the murder investigation and the counterespionage efforts, though, has Lord Ingram metaphorically flinching at shadows, wondering if the detective himself might be Moriarty’s agent aboard the ship:

Was Inspector Brighton merely following up on any and all lines of inquiry or had he, as Moriarty’s minion, sensed irregularities that might lead him to Charlotte Holmes?


Or was Lord Ingram thinking too much and too deeply when Inspector Brighton but possessed a voracious appetite for gossip and used the power of his office to satisfy his personal curiosity?

Murder investigations, after all, tend to dig up all the unsavory secrets society would rather leave buried, as Mrs Watson and Charlotte know all too well. Will the collateral damage from this case leave many more victims than just the dead person, or will our intrepid sleuths be able to save any number of reputations and, ultimately, more than one innocent person from punishment for crimes they did not commit?

Series fans will adore all the satisfying conclusions to long standing plot threads expertly sewn up in this novel. I do admit to feeling a little lost at first amidst all the background I hadn’t been privy to before picking up this book, but any confusion quickly fell by the wayside as I was swept up into the intrigue and heart of this classic murder mystery. Sherry Thomas has written a brilliant story that compassionately considers the importance of reputation in Victorian society, while also subtly indicating how some truths are unfortunately timeless no matter how much society purports to change. I’ll definitely be going back to enjoy the rest of this series from the very start, and look forward to reading much more of this author’s work.

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