Desert Isle Keeper
The Hollow of Fear
It seems that my reaction, whenever I finish one of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books, is forever destined to be one of complete awe as I sit stunned, with my brain trying to catch up while I’m also trying to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I’m not sure I’m capable of forming whole sentences just yet, because DAY-UM, but the woman has a devious mind!
The Hollow of Fear is the third in the series, and it opens exactly where book two – A Conspiracy in Belgravia – left off. So be aware that what I’m going to say next is a spoiler for that book, and that there are most likely to be spoilers for the other books in this review. Readers should also know that while there is information dotted throughout that supplies some of the backstory, I’d strongly recommend reading all the books in order so as to gain a greater understanding of all the relevant events.
The plotline of Conspiracy concerned the search for one Myron Finch, who is Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother. In a surprise twist tight at the end of the book, we learned that Finch has actually been hiding in plain sight all this time, working as the Holmes family’s coachman, and this conversation continues at the beginning of Hollow. Finch explains that he’s in hiding from Moriarty because he – Finch – has something belonging to his former master and knows that death will be his punishment should Moriarty ever find him. After a daring escape – made with the aid of Stephen Marbleton (whose mother was married to Moriarty at one time) – Charlotte is making her way back to the house she shares with Mrs. Watson when a carriage draws up beside her, the door opens – and the gentleman inside gives his name as Moriarty.
Skipping ahead a few months, we find Charlotte and Mrs. Watson comfortably settled in a cottage situated not very far from Stern Hollow, the country estate of Charlotte’s closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton. The two have known each other since they were in their teens and it’s been very clear from the moment readers were introduced to Lord Ingram – Ash – that there’s more lying between him and Charlotte than friendship. But he is married (albeit very unhappily) and Charlotte is… an unusual woman, to say the least, one who does not “understand the full spectrum of human emotions”, or rather, whose own reactions to those emotions are not always those that are desired or easily understood by others. Lord Ingram and Charlotte know and understand each other on a deep, instinctual level, and their relationship is both beautiful and frustrating; the complementary way their minds work is wonderful to see – when it comes to logic and investigation, their thoughts mesh seamlessly – but their emotional connection is far more complex and Lord Ingram, fully aware of the nature of his feelings for Charlotte, is just as fully aware that they may never be returned as he would wish.
However, the reason Charlotte and Mrs. Watson are sojourning near Stern Hollow is not Lord Ingram, but Charlotte’s sister, Olivia, who is staying close by, at a house party being hosted by their father’s cousin, Mrs. Newell. Given that Charlotte was disowned after her disgrace (A Study in Scarlet Women), she cannot openly contact Livia and hopes she will be able to see her while she is in the vicinity. It looks as though fate is against them when Mrs. Newell’s home is flooded and it seems the party must be broken up, but Lord Ingram steps in to offer the hospitality of Stern Hollow to the displaced guests. Livia’s enjoyment of her new surroundings is slightly marred by the presence of two of society’s pre-eminent gossips, who have alleged that Charlotte and Lord Ingram are lovers and are trying to prove it. Lady Ingram’s continued absence – the story is that she has gone abroad for the sake of her health; the truth is that she was divulging state secrets to Moriarty, and was allowed to leave the country before she could be arrested – produces even more juicy speculation on the part of the two ladies, who are now putting forth the rumours that Lord Ingram may have done away with the wife from whom he was known to be estranged in order to marry Charlotte. When, a day or so later, Lady Ingram’s dead body is discovered in the ice house, Livia knows it will look as though those rumours are true – and that there’s only one person who will be able to prove Lord Ingram’s innocence.
Gah! There’s so much more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to give too much away. The bulk of the story is devoted to the investigation into Lady Ingram’s death – but it’s far more complicated than that, and we’re gripped by the various twists, turns and discoveries as Sherlock’s ‘brother’ – Sherrinford Holmes – helps Lord Ingram to ferret out and piece together the evidence needed to exonerate him. There’s no question the stakes are high; this is the first time we’ve seen Charlotte even the slightest bit rattled, and the pervasive sense of fear running throughout the story is palpable. For three-quarters of the novel, Ms. Thomas lulls readers into the belief that this is the story – only to rip out the carpet from under our feet and show it’s been about something else all along, revealing that while Ash’s life really IS on the line, he and Charlotte are facing a very dangerous, devious foe and they’re out to do much more than bring a murderer to justice. That’s not the only twist in the tale however – a couple of chapters later I was reeling from yet another unexpected reveal that had my husband wondering what on earth I was swearing aloud about!
One of the (many) things that marks the Lady Sherlock series out as superior to so many other historical mysteries is the incredible amount of character development going on. More layers of Charlotte’s complex personality are peeled back here, and we learn a lot more about Lord Ingram and his unpopular wife; but most importantly, with Ash and Charlotte together for almost the entire book we get to see the reality of their messy, complicated relationship and to gain a deeper understanding of why things between them are the way they are. Their scenes together are electric, the sexual tension so thick it could be cut with a knife; the author wasn’t kidding when she said – “this is the one in which the romance between Charlotte Holmes and her good friend Lord Ingram really picks up steam”, so it’s not a spoiler to say that there are some interesting developments between them, but there is still much to hope for in future instalments.
Even with the high-stakes plot and the character and relationship development, there’s still time to shine a light on Charlotte’s family situation; on her plans for Bernadine, the older sister whose mind has never progressed beyond early childhood and on Livia, prone to melancholy and fearful for the future, but fiercely devoted to Charlotte – and, it seems, in love for the first time. Inspector Treadles, who has been struggling ever since discovering Sherlock Holmes’ true identity, his judgement strongly coloured by his – probably typical for the time – misogynistic views as to what a woman should and shouldn’t be, proves a trustworthy ally, and by the end of the book – thanks to Charlotte – he’s realised the need to let go of this preconceived ideas.
The story is very cleverly constructed, making excellent use of flashbacks in the latter part to complete the bigger picture and fill in some of the information the reader almost doesn’t realise has been withheld. That’s not to say that I felt cheated at any point – I didn’t. But I was able to figure out some things and not others, meaning that there were still plenty of surprises in store, and I loved that.
The Hollow of Fear is yet another tour de force from Sherry Thomas – and long may she continue to deliver them. A mystery filled with as many twists and turns as any Conan Doyle fan could wish for, a fascinating character study, and an unusual romance, it’s easily the best book of the series (so far) and my only complaint is that I have to wait until next year for another helping.
Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo
|Review Date:||September 23, 2018|
|Book Type:||Historical Mystery|
|Review Tags:||AoC | Lady Sherlock series|
I have assumed that the primary romance in TAoT would be Stivia*, so I have lowered my Ashlette* romance expectations. What’s surprising me is that I am really looking forward to Stivia, and I am usually primary-romance-focused.
*I apologize for these.
Yes, I agree – that’s another thing I’ve noticed as I re-read; I really like the secondary romance in this series even though I usually find them to be a distraction. I want Livia to be happy! And Caz, I am looking forward to your review, as always.
I’ve read and reviewed it so look for that closer to publication date. The romance is dialled back a bit but there are some interesting developments nonetheless.
I am re-reading this (and the first two) as I count down the days until The Art of Theft comes out, and I am astonished all over again at how good it is. The plot is so tightly wound, and on re-reading I see more of the clues she’s dropped along the way, but so cleverly that they don’t stand out. Also, Ash and Charlotte are one of my favorite pairings of all time. Some of the early reviews of Art of Theft indicate the romance is dialed down in this next installment, which I am a bit sad about, but I will happily go on whatever ride Sherry Thomas wants to take me on.
Also, I want a book about Remington. Even with only a few lines of description/characterization in this book, Thomas manages to make him interesting, even compelling. This series is so, so good.
I am gobsmacked! But I knew I knew I knew!! The book was fabulous, but I figured out! I enjoyed reading your review after finishing the book today. Just love this series, but GAH now I have to wait a year for the next one!
I love this book so much. I think the key to a HEA for Charlotte and Ash is to think outside the box of gender expectations.. I’ve been bemoaning the construction of nearly all romance heroines, especially historical ones, as committed to marriage and children, and then here comes Sherry Thomas upending conventions. Gender is very performative in this series. I’m now even somewhat wondering about the overlap of “autism” and unconventional women as one and the same? Women were constructed as hysterics in the 19th century for postpartum depression, and so assumptions about autism and feminism seem somewhat logical to me.
The mystery is tight in this book and the character development of this entire world is terrific. I’m excited not just for future Charlotte/Ash development but for Livia and all the other fascinating characters.
I keep remembering something Ash said about Charlotte to the effect that when/if she is ready to get married, she’ll most likely just tap the fellow on the shoulder and tell him it’s time. I just love how well they know and understand each other in ways nobody else does or ever will.
Yes, I just re-read all 3 books (they re-read wonderfully, as you pick up all sorts of things) and noticed this passage in particular. I think that Blackjack is right, and also the key is to think outside the box, both in terms of gender expectations and in terms of marriage. Or rather, part of the point is that the two have to deal with both the conflict between Ash’s romantic nature and Charlotte’s non-romantic nature (is she aromantic; that category of characterization isn’t one I’ve read much of), but also the social expectations of their time. I can totally see Ash and Charlotte in a relationship today. Best friends who know each other deeply and have enthusiastic regular sex is how I’d describe my relationship with my husband. But the 19th century pressure of expectations about what marriage and romance are is a significant obstacle.
I really need to read this book again. I loved it and was so taken by surprise by the ending that, in retrospect, I’m not sure how all the pieces fit together. This isn’t because it wasn’t well done–just the opposite. Thomas did it so well that I realize I missed certain points in my haste to inhale this book. She’s a genius.
I know exactly what you mean! And the thing I thought was so clever was the way she withheld information without you realising it! Okay, the part – which I’ve mentioned – where we jump from her encounter with Moriarty to the next chapter, is an obvious example, but other times we were missing information we didn’t know we needed… if that makes any sense.
I finally succumbed and bought all three books in this series. Loved them, but I am agonized over how Charlotte’s relationship with Lord Ingram will progress through the next couple of books. I desperately want an HEA, but I am not sure I’ll get one!
I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I have faith in Sherry Thomas ;)
How does Sherry Thomas keep track of all the plot points and fit them together to elegantly? The twists at the end were masterful. Now I need to reread the book to fully appreciate some of the subtexts. When is the next book coming out????
I reckon she’s got a room full of whiteboards, post-its and crayons!
All I can say is woah…. totally unexpected twists towards the end and I just want more Lord Ingram and Charlotte
Same here. Sonya, same here.
Good lord, I loved this book.
I am so excited about this novel!
Yess I’m reading this now it’s marvelous!
Excited for this book doesn’t come close to capturing my feelings. I literally read A Conspiracy in Belgravia last year with a pencil in my hand trying to piece together all the clues, threads, and strands to that amazing book. Thomas’s Lady Sherlock books make me want to read them next to a whiteboard and sharpie. Lord Ingram is a wonderful character and I’m thrilled that he plays such a large role in this book. Sherry Thomas is one of my favorite romance authors, but I think I may like her just a tad more as a historical mystery writer. I hope in any case that the Lady Sherlock books have lots of life in them going forward no matter what else she does.
BTW, thank you for summarizing key events from Conspiracy in your first paragraph. I agree that this third book would be a difficult book for readers to pick up without having read the second one at least.
It’s always hard to know what to put in about previous books in novels like this that build on previous ones. You don’t want to end up writing an essay about the previous book, but I find it hard to just launch into the review without at least some reference -so I’m glad it worked for you :)
I’m sure you’ll enjoy the book – ST does pull a couple of very unexpected rabbits out of the hat towards the end!
I’m afraid to read your review! I want it to be a surprise!
Well, you know me – I do my best to avoid spoilers for these sorts of books :)
I originally started this series after reading your wonderful review of the audio version of A Study in Scarlet Women so thanks for that! I was already so excited for this but now I really can hardly wait.
That’s good to know – thank you! It’s a fabulous series and I’m sure this one won’t disappoint.
Oh, goodness- what a wonderful, intriguing review! I am immediately pre-ordering the audiobook.