on Sept. 12, 2017
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Also in this series: Elementary, She Read, The Cat of the Baskervilles
Gemma Doyle and Jayne Wilson are busy managing the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Baker Street and adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room in anticipation of the store’s upcoming book signing with the illustrious Renalta Van Markoff, author of the controversial Hudson and Holmes mystery series. But during the author Q&A session, dedicated Sherlockian Donald Morris verbally attacks Renalta and her series for disgracing Sherlock’s legacy, only to be publicly humiliated when the author triumphantly lashes back and gains the upper hand. That is until Renalta collapses on the table—dead.
Donald insists he didn’t do it and pleads to his friends to clear his name. Fortunately, Gemma and Jayne have no shortage of suspects between author’s bullied personal assistant, her frustrated publicist, the hapless publisher, a handsome rare book dealer, an obsessively rabid fan, and a world of other Sherlock enthusiasts with strong objections to Renalta’s depiction of the Great Detective. It’s up to the shrewd sleuthing duo to eliminate the impossible and deduce the truth before the West London police arrest an innocent man.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Body on Baker Street is the second book in Vicki Delany’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery series, and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first. I like my cozies to have some substance and believable characters (as opposed to mostly fluff and eccentric, over-the-top types.) Delany delivers exactly that.
Delany’s protagonist, Gemma Doyle, runs the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop on Baker Street in West London. West London, Cape Cod, that is—though Gemma is in fact English. She co-owns the shop with her uncle Arthur Doyle, and her friend Jayne runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tearoom.
Gemma has a few things in common with the fictional detective for whom the shop is named. She’s extremely observant, highly logical, sharply intelligent, and often impatient with those less mentally acute…at least if they’re on the police force. She is certainly a T(hinking) type on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type scale, favoring thought (logic) over emotion.*
However, Gemma is not as emotionally austere as the classic Holmes. Nor is she a “high-functioning sociopath” like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. She does reasonably well in social interactions, though she admits to not really understanding small talk. And she cares about and is loyal to her best friend Jayne. Gemma is not as in-your-face arrogant as either the classic Holmes or modern Sherlock, either… although she can be pretty high-handed when it comes to the police, both to their faces and in ignoring the law when it suits her. She’s often impatient when the police draw the wrong conclusions or fail to see or interpret clues correctly. And she’s not shy about putting in her two cents, usually undiplomatically, which invariably leads to conflict between Gemma and her chief nemesis, Detective Louise Estrada. Fortunately, Estrada’s boss is Gemma’s former boyfriend Ryan; he knows the value of her input and sometimes gives her privileged information, though he would rather she not interfere in his investigations.
In other words, Gemma isn’t a caricature or a cardboard cutout; she’s a real character with depth. As the narrator as well as the protagonist, we get to know her pretty well. But since she’s the narrator, we only experience the other characters through Gemma’s observations. And despite her observational prowess, Gemma is curiously blind to some emotional nuances: she doesn’t really understand why some people, Estrada in particular, find her so irritating, for example. Her occasional obtuseness means that in some instances, the reader has a different or better grasp of a particular situation or individual than Gemma herself does. It’s the sort of thing that keeps her human, and keeps the books interesting.
I suspect Delany had a lot of fun writing this installment, and I had a lot of fun reading it. Renalta Van Markoff, author of a highly popular Holmesian pastiche series and inevitable murder victim, is eccentric and very definitely over-the-top—just what I said I don’t like, but it works well in this instance, in part because most of the other characters are believable, and in part because some celebrities really are over-the-top. The book is filled with characters from the writing, publishing, and fan worlds, as well as references to other Holmes pastiches, from Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series to the BBC’s Sherlock and Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women. And there are references to the real-world Holmesians, fans whose enthusiasm for and devotion to Conan Doyle’s original stories rivals that of Harry Potter fans–including Gemma’s frequent customer, Desmond, who seems to be the chief suspect in Renalta’s death.
The mystery itself is fairly well constructed, with a number of suspects and a variety of motives. I didn’t spot the probable killer until very late in the game, but I did guess something important about the victim pretty early. Outguessing the author is one of the attractions of reading mysteries for me; I don’t want it to be too easy, but I don’t want to be totally in the dark, either. Delany successfully walks the line between the two, in this mystery as in Elementary, She Read. (review)
I’ll be eager to read the next book in the series, The Cat of the Baskervilles. Does the titular cat refer to the bookshop cat, Moriarty, who seems to like everyone except Gemma? I have a sneaking liking for him despite his antagonism toward Gemma. At any rate, the book is due out in February, and I’ll be looking forward to it.
*My overall guess is that Gemma is an INTJ, though she is very observant of details, so she might be an ISTJ. But while she’s fairly balanced between I(ntrovert) and E(xtrovert), and S(ensing) & N(intuition), she’s very, very T. It’s also possible that she has Asperger’s syndrome.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Tackle Your TBR Read-a-thon 2017