Elementary, She Read
by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (March 2017)
320 p. ISBN 9781683310969
Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop–located at 222 Baker Street–specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.
The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman’s suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it’s a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany.
What a FUN book! This is what I call a step-to-the-left pastiche, in that the characters aren’t named Holmes and Watson, though they emulate aspects and fulfill the roles of the original characters. Gemma is our Holmes and Jayne is our Watson. They own a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and tea shop, which is a very cute idea, and it just becomes more fun from there.
First of all, I want everyone to know this up front: there is some very gentle ribbing at folks like us. Gemma doesn’t quite understand the Sherlock Holmes obsession, and sometimes looks at her customers (especially her more particular clientele!) with bafflement. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s very loving, as the author is clearly laughing at herself too. Gemma also defends her customers later on in the book. I wanted to state that up front, in case that’s a deal breaker for you, or if you bounce off the first encounter of the attitude.
Gemma is a great main character. She’s not always very self-aware, even if she’s very observant, which allows us to make our own decisions about who she is. I found her to be snobby, clever, brash and stubborn, and she clearly loves her friends and her community, even if she’s occasionally frustrated by them. Her friendship with Jayne was my favourite part of this book by far, though anyone who enjoys romances might also like her interactions with the detective, Ryan, and the book collector, Grant.
The mystery is actually fairly light, despite the bodies hitting the ground. If you are someone who prefers twisty, complicated mysteries, this may not be for you, but anyone who just wants the escapism of a straightforward mystery will find this enjoyable. I also find it delightful that, despite the murders happening, the main mystery actually concerns a copy of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual.
One of the strongest parts of this book was the community that Delany depicted. In the first book of the series, it’s tempting to do a lot of set up and exposition about just who everyone is, but instead the author just drops us into the small town of West London and lets us get to know how everyone knows each other, the friendships and the rivalries and the histories, in a more organic fashion. This is an author who excels at show-don’t-tell when it comes to the people. If she sets us up by telling us that someone behaves in a particular way, we also get the opportunity to see it and draw our own conclusions from it. I thought it was an excellent depiction of a small town community.
I wasn’t originally intending to read this book when I saw it show up in the publishing lists, but the author contacted the Society to ask if she could send someone the book to review. I’m very glad she reached out to us, as this was a book I enjoyed immensely. I will definitely be looking for the second book in the series when it comes out in September!
What About Our Watson?
As already mentioned, this is a step-to-the-left pastiche, and as such, we don’t have a character named Watson. The Watson role is instead fulfilled by Jayne Wilson, who is absolutely delightful.
Jayne owns the teashop connected to the Sherlock Holmes bookstore. She’s a serious businesswoman, who cares deeply about how the business runs, and she’s good at it, too. She is, in fact, much better at running a business than Gemma is, and frequently has to step up to handle the things that Gemma forgot about. I personally appreciated the fact that it was Jayne who really had a handle on the business side of things, and it wasn’t just thrown in there for detail. The fact that Jayne runs her business is an important part of who she is, rather than fluffy characterization.
Despite the fact that she’s serious about running her business, Jayne also clearly enjoys a good adventure, as she’s willing to step up and help Gemma with her illicit investigation when asked. She is, at times, reluctant—Jayne does not enjoy finding bodies—but she is an excellent friend and wants to help. She’s got a long way to go before she’s fully invested in being a partner to Gemma, and I’m hoping that the author will let her grow in this capacity in future books, but it was a wonderful start.
For people who are interested in Watson’s romantic relationships, they’ll be thrilled to see a version of it replicated in Jayne’s dating life. Jayne, with her great business sense and willingness to adventure, doesn’t always have the best taste in men. We meet one boyfriend in this book, and he’s a trip.
Most importantly, the friendship between Gemma and Jayne is strong and based in mutual respect. There is a great deal of affection and kindness between the two of them, and it will absolutely remind you of the original Holmes and Watson.
You Might Like This Book If You Like:
Cozy mysteries; romances; bookshops; small town communities
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