Miss Moriarty, I Presume?
A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes’s doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.
Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty’s daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte’s longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte—or is it the other way around?
But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty’s disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte’s skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?
The game is – once again – very much afoot in this sixth installment in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series of clever historical mysteries. As the synopsis indicates, she finally comes face-to-face with her nemesis – but rather than the expected violent confrontation, ‘Mr. Baxter’ instead wants to engage Holmes’ services to investigate the disappearance of his daughter from a Hermetic (possibly occultist) community in a remote corner of Cornwall. Of course, Charlotte knows not to take anything at face value, but with no other options available, Charlotte, Lord Ingram and Mrs. Watson head for the Garden of Hermopolis to see what they can find out. In the meantime, Charlotte’s sister, Livia, is following an intriguing trail of breadcrumbs left by Stephen Marbleton that leads to some very intriguing coded messages which could prove vital in the fight against Moriarty.
Caz and Dabney are both massive Sherry Thomas fans and have followed the series since day one – although their opinions over the last couple of books have diverged. They both read Miss Moriarty, I Presume? and are here to share their thoughts about the novel.
Caz: Dabney, I know I’ve enjoyed the last couple of Lady Sherlock books a bit more than you have – but much as it pains me to say it, even I found this one to be a bit of a slog. None of the books really work as standalones, and that’s especially true of Miss Moriarty, which feels like a culmination of all that has gone before. There are lots of references to events and characters from previous books, but while I was pleased to see all the puzzle pieces being drawn together, I did at times struggle to recall all the whos, whats whens and whys – and it made for a pretty dense read.
Dabney: I want to love this series, I do. And the first two were fabulous and the third quite good but since then, well, I’m losing interest. Each of the last three books has required recalling in detail the preceding books, to the point that without my Kindle’s search feature, I’d have been lost. The plotting is, as you say, dense and the story arcs of the series – Charlotte and Ash, Moriarty’s true aims, Livia and Mr. Marbleton – are leisurely. At this point, I’m hoping she’ll speed up these resolutions and move on. The adage all good things must come to an end resonates for a reason.
Caz: I agree that there’s been a loss of momentum over the past book or two. I haven’t found it too much of a problem to be able to recall the plot details I needed to follow each book, but this time around? Yeah, I was reading things and thinking “I know I should know why this is important…” but couldn’t always remember why, and that was frustrating. Maybe that’s a failure on my part, but even though I follow a number of mystery series that require some knowledge of what went before, I struggled here. There were things I liked a lot, but as a whole, I found Miss Moriarty, I Presume? to be tough going. The first half is pretty slow – actually, the first two-thirds or so is slow – although fortunately, it did pick up later in the second half and reached a satisfying conclusion. Although there is clearly more to come.
Dabney: I too follow several long-running series and can follow them far better than I can this one. Part of this is that Thomas’ plots have become unbelievably so intricate that they hinge on tiny details. Worse – and it pains me to say this – the clues relevant here, especially those left by Mr. Marbleton, were too far fetched for this reader.
Caz: I’d have to agree with that on both counts. The ‘treasure hunt’ was interesting and very clever, but maybe just a little bit too clever? I like a complex plot, and that aspect of the books has worked for me so far, but it’s getting too convoluted. One of my biggest issues over the last couple of books is something I touched on in my review of Murder on Cold Street – and you’ve mentioned it, too – the Moriarty Plot. One of the problems I’m having with the series as a whole is that he’s just so… nebulous, that I can’t work out why Charlotte et al are so scared of him. In fact, I’ve realised that my view of him – he’s an evil mastermind who is always Up To No Good – is based pretty much entirely on the fact that I know he’s the Big Bad in Conan Doyle’s stories. At least in the BBC version, Andrew Scott’s Moriarty was one of those oddly compelling treading-the-thin-line-between-genius-and-madness types – but this Moriarty is so hazy that the stakes for our heroes just aren’t very clear.
Dabney: And that lack of clear characterization which, I suspect, Thomas has taken from Conan Doyle’s books – he only appeared in two of the stories – makes the way in which everyone else responds to him hard to parse. These books are not adaptations, they’re original tales that borrow from source material somewhat. I feel as though we are stuck in some fictional world where, in order to appreciate Thomas’ undeniable genius, we have to both understand Conan Doyle’s characters while making sense of Thomas’. That combination just isn’t working for me.
Caz: It’s been a long time since I read any of the original Holmes stories, but I think you’re right. And while having a single-note baddie may have worked back when they were written, modern mysteries have moved on and generally tend to flesh them out a lot more. It seems we’re both having similar issues. So, what, if anything, did you like about this one?
Dabney: Thomas is a gorgeous writer, her descriptions of people and places are grounded and believable. Her characters are interesting and her sly sense of humor is a gift. Ash and Charlotte are lovely together – I really would like to see far more of them as lovers – and Charlotte’s compassion for her sisters is boundless. I admire the braininess of these books even as it impedes my pleasure.
Caz: The writing is sublime, and the characterisations are amazing across the board. I’d also like more of Ash and Charlotte as lovers, but I remind myself that this is historical mystery and not historical romance and tell myself to be happy with what we get! Ash is delicious though – I do love those moments when the proper gentleman disappears and rawr!Ash makes an appearance ;) The epistolary flirting at the beginning is sexy and fun (hah -and then the bag of contraceptives and the, er… *wink*) and even though things aren’t completely settled between them, there’s a real sense that they’re happy with the way things are. And although I said the first part of the book is slow, I did like the scenes where they’re preparing for the visit by (as they think) Moriarty’s henchman; Sherry Thomas creates some amazing tension and unease there.
Dabney: So what’s your grade? I think mine is a B simply because Thomas’ work is surpassingly better than most.
Caz: Same, and for similar reasons. The final quarter is worth the price of admission, the writing is simply exceptional and I continue to love the characters. But I am worried the series is becoming (has become?) a bit too complicated for its own good.