REVIEW: Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas
Disclosure from DA reviewer Janine: Author Sherry Thomas is my friend and critique partner. Jennie, who wrote the review, has no personal relationship with her, however.-Janine
Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, investigates a puzzling new murder case that implicates Scotland Yard inspector Robert Treadles in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.
Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.
Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?
Dear Ms. Thomas:
I’ll start by saying that I found this to be perhaps the least byzantine of the books in the series, a series I’ve been upfront about finding confusing a lot of the time. Since the previous books in the series have all received B range grades from me, it can be said that I enjoy them in spite of frequently being a bit lost. (Also, this is not to say that the plot of this book isn’t byzantine; there were so many people going in and out of the house where the murders take place on the night of that it started to feel like a clown car to me.)
It’s interesting to see Inspector Treadles referred to in the blurb as Charlotte’s friend, given that he has been in a pique for most of the four previous books after discovering that the brilliant Sherlock is actually the brilliant Charlotte. Still, Treadles has come a long way in his attitude towards women’s liberation, or what passed for it in Victorian England. By the end of the last book, he was both more accepting of Charlotte’s status as a fallen woman and secret genius detective, and of his wife’s determination to succeed at the head of the family business she inherited, Cousins Manufacturing.
It’s the company that’s seemingly at the center of the murder mystery, as the two murdered men, Mr. Longstead and his nephew, Mr. Sullivan, were both employed by Cousins Manufacturing. Mrs. Treadles comes to Charlotte seeking Sherlock Holmes’ help after her husband is arrested. In spite of her clear concern about her husband, Mrs. Treadles is obviously hiding something.
(Some light spoilers for earlier books in the series follow.)
Though the plot of Murder on Cold Street features two men ostensibly murdered by another man, the various ways in which women’s lives are manipulated and constrained by men is actually a stronger focus of the plot. Mrs. Treadles has struggled to gain control over Cousin Manufacturing, hampered by all of the men under her who think she’s not suited to be in charge. Both her sister-in-law, Mrs. Cousins, and Mrs. Sullivan, the widow of one of the murdered men, had unhappy marriages – the latter perversely obsessed with a husband who despised her. Charlotte’s sister Olivia and even her awful mother lead highly straitened lives that make them pretty unhappy much of the time.
Olivia has been a prominent secondary character in these books; in this one she’s a bit in the background as she does not interact with Charlotte until the end and thus isn’t involved in the main storyline. Olivia is stuck in the country with her odious mother, pining over her lost romance with Stephen Marbleton (Olivia doesn’t know that Stephen is back under the control of his father, the arch-villain Moriarty). The one comfort Olivia has is the Sherlock Holmes stories she’s been writing, and in the course of the book she moves towards attempting to get a story published. Olivia is a tremendously sympathetic character, and if and when the series ends I anticipate an HEA for her. (Moreso even than I do for Charlotte; though her and Ingram’s relationship makes some progress in this story, it’s hard to imagine a conventional ending for those two.)
One of the most interesting women in the book is Miss Longstead, the niece of one of the murdered men (and cousin to the other). An orphan of mixed race, it was her debutante party being held at 33 Cold Street the night the murders occurred at the house next door. She’s shown to be a sensitive and interesting character, and I hope we see her again.
I don’t have a lot to say about the mystery – the eventual resolution was not particularly surprising, though it was helpful, as always, to have the various pieces explicitly put together at the end. The crime is interesting for the way that it puts Inspector Treadles in jeopardy and, thus, obviously, affects Mrs. Treadles, but in and of itself I didn’t find it that compelling. (I will say that Inspector Treadles’ reason for not cooperating with the investigation did not bear up under close scrutiny, IMO.) But the urgency of the characters trying to save Treadles from being convicted of a capital crime (right before Christmas, no less! – the setting was very effectively conveyed) made for absorbing read.
One last niggle: the character of Inspector Brighton, the Scotland Yard investigator tasked with looking into the murders, makes a strong – and negative – early impression, and then just sort of disappears. Maybe he’ll be in future books?
My grade for Murder on Cold Street is a high B+.