After feigning her own death in Cornwall to escape from Moriarty’s perilous attention, Charlotte Holmes goes into hiding. But then she receives a tempting offer: Find a dossier the crown is desperately seeking to recover, and she might be able to go back to a normal life.
Her search leads her aboard the RMS Provence, sailing from Southampton for the eastern hemisphere. But on the night Charlotte makes her move to retrieve the dossier, in the midst of a terrifying storm in the Bay of Biscay, a brutal murder also takes place on the ship.
Instead of solving the crime, as she is accustomed to doing, Charlotte must take care not to be embroiled in this investigation, lest it become known to those who harbor ill intentions that Sherlock Holmes is abroad and still very much alive.
Dabney and Caz – both big fans of Sherry Thomas – read A Tempest at Sea, book seven in the Lady Sherlock series, and got together to discuss their thoughts on the book.
Caz: This installment in the Lady Sherlock series is very much like one of those mid-season stand-alones in a long-running TV series, when the story arc is mostly suspended in favour of a single, self-contained episode. As it happens, that self-contained episode is an interesting “closed circle” mystery set aboard ship, combined with some well-observed character interactions and insightful commentary. It’s a welcome change from the previous book (Miss Moriarty, I Presume?) which I described (in our review) as “a culmination of all that has gone before”, a drawing together of all the puzzle pieces so far laid out that made, ultimately, for a pretty dense read. A Tempest at Sea feels lighter in tone. The threat to Charlotte is still very much in existence, but it’s less prominent here and the murder mystery takes centre stage.
Dabney: Um…. no. For me, this was an even less pleasant read than Miss Moriarty, I Presume? It took me months to finish this book. I found it both dull and confusing. As much as it pains me–and, honestly I can barely believe I’m writing this–if this is what Sherry Thomas is writing these days, I’m simply not interested.
Caz: I admit, it takes quite a while to get going and I really struggled through the first forty percent or so until things picked up, and once that happened, I started to enjoy it.
Can we talk about the overarching plot? Although I enjoyed this book a bit more than the last one, I’m finding it hard to remain invested (or interested, really) in the whole Holmes vs. Moriarty thing. I feel like I’m being asked to take it as read that Moriarty is a threat to Charlotte simply because he’s Holmes’ accepted nemesis. He’s pulling strings behind the scenes, but I’m not getting an overall sense of menace because I don’t really know what he wants – other than Charlotte out of the way, of course.
Dabney: I really no longer have any idea what Moriarty wants or even what the players involved – the list of characters connected to his machinations became even longer in this story – in his enterprise are trying to achieve. It rather reminds me of SPECTRE in the early James Bond films – they’re EVIL but one never really knows a thing about them. No one could make sense of this book without having read every other book in this overly long series – and I’d advise having taken copious notes. There’s a big reveal at the very end of this book that baffled me simply because I genuinely couldn’t recall who the person is in the larger scheme of things.
Caz: I’m struggling with all that, too, although I was a bit more impressed with the reveal at the end than you. I do agree that this is a series where you need to have read every book and be able to recall many, many intricate details in order to be able to follow and appreciate things in the latest installments. And speaking personally, I just don’t have time to re-read them all each time there’s a new Lady Sherlock book due out!
Dabney: As the plot has become more abstruse, the characters have become less interesting and that’s a big problem. This book showed us nothing of Charlotte’s interior life nor of Ash’s. Livia’s concerns are all about her overbearing mother – Lady Holmes is a borderline caricature – and Mrs. Watson is nothing but someone to pour the tea. I was particularly irked by Charlotte’s repeated references to Ash as her lover – there are no love scenes and no relational development between the two.
Caz: The stand-alone mystery worked well for me once it got going, but I think that was mostly because Ash gets to take centre stage; he ends up assisting Inspector Brighton (Murder on Cold Street) – who is also one of the passengers – with the murder investigation, so he gets a lot more page time and we’re privy to more of his thought processes. That said, when I say I enjoyed the book, I’m judging it as a mystery; I’ve pretty much given up on the romance in this series by now, although I did appreciate seeing Charlotte at last becoming a little bit more self-aware of the nature of her feelings for Ash. But… dare I say, it’s too little, too late?
Dabney: It’s interesting that you liked the mystery. I am a mystery reader and I found this one to be annoying. There were no real clues sprinkled through the story that would have led one to suspect the culprit–the denouement of the story came out of blue. I deplore that in suspense. The second death was never really explored and those in the story that behaved overtly badly waltzed away with no consequence. None of it wowed me in the slightest.
Caz: I read it as a fairly good example of ye olde Country House Mystery (but aboard ship). I remember when we spoke about it before we started this PB, that you found the feel of the mystery rather stilted, whereas I didn’t feel that; it was very familiar as a very particular type of very “English” mystery.
Going back to what you said about the romance – or lack thereof – a lack of romance is why so many historical romantic mysteries series run out of steam (pun unintentional!) for me – Lady Julia, Lady Darby, Wrexford & Sloane, Veronica Speedwell… once the couple is together, I start losing interest in the rest of the stories, no matter how clever they are. And that’s kind of happened here; Charlotte and Ash haven’t got their HEA yet, even though they’re sleeping together and Ash is clearly head-over-heels for Charlotte and always has been. But I think their will-they-won’t-they has run out of steam, too, and I’m not sure I’m invested enough in the rest to want to continue with it any longer. Like you, I’m a huge fan of Sherry Thomas’ historical romances, and I admire her hugely as a writer, but… I think I’m done with this series now.
Dabney: I agree that this relationship has no steam or heat. They’re lovers whose hearts are fairly obscure and whose physical relationship is firmly closed door. Can I just say I so miss Sherry Thomas as a romance writer? This love story in this novel is threadbare and yawn inducing. It’s a big bummer coming from someone with her outrageous talent.
I’m curious–do you have any idea what happens next? At the end of the book, we’re told that Ash and Charlotte don’t know when they’ll see each other again and I wasn’t sure why? Is this because she’s still officially dead so that she can’t be found by Moiriarty?
Caz: I have no idea. I remember the author saying, in response to a comment I made in my review of The Art of Theft, that there would probably be ten (I think) books all told, and this is number seven. I assume that the remaining three books will be spent dealing with Moriarty in some way, getting Olivia and Marbleton together and finally giving Ash and Charlotte their HEA, but for now, yes, she’s still officially “dead”- as was Conan Doyle’s Holmes, although that was because the author decided to kill him off – and I have no idea what’s in store next. And quite honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to be jumping up and down to find out. Time was when the latest Charlotte Holmes was a must read, but the last two have been a slog and there are other books I’m more interested in reading.
I did like this more than you did, though, and am giving it a B, mostly because I enjoyed the mystery and the writing is incredibly good, but it’s not a book I feel I can recommend to anyone who is looking for romance along with their historical mystery. How about you?
Dabney: While this is my least favorite Sherry Thomas book, it is still a Sherry Thomas book. As usual, her writing is assured, witty, and intelligent. I give it a C simply because even a dull work by her is an English major’s dream. I mean, when was the last time you read a romance where the author quoted Beowulf?
Buy it at: Amazon
Visit our Amazon Storefront
Recent Comments …
On my TBR!
I so agree!
I have asked for that for Christmas!
If you’re a fan of Singh’s writing, you’ll love it!
I will definitely check this book out. I had my US History students read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale–based…
I’m going to check out The Wolf Den and am happy my library has it. The time period sounds intriguing.…