Desert Isle Keeper
Murder on Cold Street
Murder on Cold Street, the fifth book in Sherry Thomas’ acclaimed Lady Sherlock series picks up immediately where the previous book (The Art of Theft) left off, so if you haven’t read it yet, then you might want to wait to read this review until you have. In fact, there will probably be spoilers for other titles in the series here, and while in some respects these novels are standalone mysteries, the character relationships and some plot arcs are ongoing and you’ll get more out of the later books if you’ve read at least some of the earlier ones.
Right at the end of The Art of Theft, after Charlotte, Lord Ingram, Mrs. Watson and Livia had returned from their latest escapades in France, a buoyant Lord Ingram, finally resolved on putting himself out there as regards his feelings for Charlotte, was diverted from his purpose by the news that his friend, Inspector Robert Treadles, had been arrested on suspicion of murder. While it’s true that Lord Ingram’s friendship with the inspector had cooled a little in recent months on account of the policeman’s disapproval of Charlotte’s being the brains behind the formidable Sherlock Holmes, she and Lord Ingram are no less determined to do everything they can to discover the truth and prove the Inspector’s innocence.
This is going to be rather difficult however, as comes to light when Mrs. Treadles arrives in Baker Street to engage Sherlock to work on her husband’s behalf. She explains that he was found covered in blood, gun in hand, in a locked room with two men who had been shot to death, and that as far as Inspector Brighton – who is in charge of the investigation – is concerned, Treadles is guilty and it isn’t going to take much to convict him.
At this initial meeting, it’s obvious to both Charlotte and Lord Ingram that Mrs. Treadles is holding something back from them, and any pressure they try to exert causes Mrs. Treadles to insist ever more steadfastly that there’s nothing else they need to be aware of. They tacitly agree not to pursue this further (for now), but know they have to get to the bottom of whatever secret she’s keeping if they’re to gain a proper understanding as to what might have happened on the night of the murders.
Murder in Cold Street is a clever locked-room mystery, and the author keeps us on our toes as we follow Charlotte and Lord Ingram unearthing clues and suspects as they work tirelessly to prove Treadles’ innocence. We learned in an earlier book in the series that while Mr. and Mrs. Treadles were a devoted couple, things had become a little strained between them of late, ever since she inherited the family business, Cousins Manufacturing, on the recent death of her brother. Alice – Mrs. Treadles – an intelligent, educated woman, was keen to take up the reins of the business, but her husband wasn’t pleased at her moving beyond the “domestic sphere”. The two dead men were related to Cousins in some way – one was an employee, the other a former business partner who had also been a mentor to Mrs. Treadles – and when Charlotte suggests that perhaps the deaths are tied to Cousins somehow, a closer look into the company business reveals things that may well have been worth killing over.
As always, the mystery is clever and well-executed, and I really enjoyed watching ‘the gang’ – Charlotte, Lord Ingram, Mrs. Watson and Penelope – all working together and playing off one another. Even better is the amount of time that Charlotte and Lord Ingram spend together; I know, I know, these are mainly historical mysteries, but Ms. Thomas injected so much delicious sexual tension and palpable longing between the couple right from the first book that I – along with many fans, I’m sure –have been eagerly lapping up even the tiniest signs of romantic attachment between them! I won’t say too much, but there are significant progressions here; Charlotte, always so unperturbable and not at all romantic is displaying some vulnerability when it comes to Lord Ingram, and there’s a greater realisation on her part of his reasons for holding back from her for so long. As for Lord Ingram, well, he’s always been completely swoonworthy, but Ms. Thomas somehow makes him even more dreamy; we’re in his head a fair bit in this book and his thoughts and reflections about his past and his relationship with Charlotte are interesting and insightful. When it comes to their working relationship, they’re so in sync that that they almost don’t need to talk at all, and I loved that. He’s every bit as shrewd and observant as Charlotte is, he’s her intellectual equal as well as a man in love who is ready to accept her, foibles, eccentricities and all, in whatever way she will accept him. And it’s fairly clear Charlotte is coming to realise something along the same lines. She prides herself on logic and clear-headed calculation… but Lord Ingram is occupying her thoughts more and more frequently, in a way she’s so far reserved for the finest madeira or plum cake (!)
Throughout the story, Sherry Thomas deftly makes some very pertinent points about societal injustice in the Victorian era without resorting to lengthy polemics or info-dumps. Mrs. Treadles’ difficulties in assuming control of Cousins Manufacturing due to the misogyny displayed by the all-male management team made me want to spit, and the obliviousness of an otherwise kind and decent man to the fact that his mixed-race niece was frequently made deliberately uncomfortable was both subtle and hard-hitting at the same time.
So, why the A- and not a flat-out A, especially considering I enjoyed so many things about Murder on Cold Street? Well, I have to admit that I’m getting a little bit frustrated with the Moriarty plotline in the sense that after five books, I still have very little idea what he’s up to in the way of a Master Plan. He’s this nebulous baddie pulling strings somewhere in the wings, and okay, so he’s a master criminal with his finger in many dastardly pies, but even though, at the end of this book, Lord Ingram warns Charlotte that Moriarty must consider her an enemy now, he’s not inspiring the same sense of dread in me that he obviously is in the characters. Again, perhaps that’s my fault and I’ve missed (or forgotten) something important. Even so, Murder on Cold Street is a readable, clever and compelling addition to the series and should definitely be on any historical mystery fan’s Wish List.