REVIEW: Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas
Dear Sherry Thomas:
I have been a fan of this series since the first book, even though byzantine plots sometimes confuse me. This book, the sixth in the series, features the highly anticipated meeting, at last, between Charlotte Holmes and notorious baddie Moriarty.
There’s a lot going on in this book; I’ll try to summarize as best I can.
Charlotte and part of her Scooby squad (her lover Lord Ingram and her friend and mentor Mrs. Watson) have been aware of surveillance on 18 Baker Street by Moriarty’s underlings, and in fact have been considering whether they should bolt now that they know they are under his scrutiny. Before they know it, there’s a visit from a representative of Moriarty’s, and then a visit from the man himself, wanting (ostensibly) the aid of the brilliant Sherlock Holmes.
Charlotte greets Moriarty, going by the name Baxter and accompanied by a familiar face, though Charlotte does not acknowledge that she recognizes him. Mr. Stephen Marbleton is Moriarty’s son; he had long been on the run from his father along with the rest of his family. For some reason he has been forced to go to Moriarty and now he is clearly his prisoner.
“Mr. Baxter” tells Charlotte a long story about his daughter by his first wife, who has been living with Hermeticists at a retreat in Cornwall. Moriarty has kept tabs on her, with her reluctant consent, during her time there, but lately he has come to suspect that something is wrong. He wants to dispatch Charlotte Holmes to investigate.
Charlotte is disquieted – even shaken – by the encounter with Moriarty, who seems to have a mesmeric power in person. I felt oddly disappointed to see the usually unflappable Charlotte, well, flapped.
I’m sure it was meant to convey Moriarty’s power, but it’s taken me a while to come to terms with Charlotte as a central protagonist. Seemingly on the autism spectrum, Charlotte’s detachment has made her an interesting heroine but also one who can be difficult to relate to, because she doesn’t act and react in familiar ways. But by now, I find that I have some ambivalence about a Charlotte who fears Moriarty, or even one whose view of the world has opened up due to her attachments to Lord Ingram, Mrs. Watson, and others. I am interested to see how she continues to develop, but I do have some affection for the “old” Charlotte.
Having no real choice but to bend to Moriarty’s wishes, Charlotte and Mrs. Watson head for the Garden of Hermopolis. Lord Ingram is following behind shortly, but first takes a trip with Livia, Charlotte’s sister. Livia’s fledging romance with Stephen Marbleton was cut short when he went back underground in the previous book. Now Lord Ingram and Livia try to trace Marbleton’s recent movements, based on a train ticket stub that he dropped on the carpet during his visit to Charlotte with Moriarty.
At the Garden of Hermopolis, Charlotte and Mrs. Watson find the denizens suspicious and unwelcoming, which is not surprising, since the two are there as representatives of Moriarty. They’ve been told by a housekeeper in Moriarty’s pay that Miss Baxter* has been mysteriously absent recently, and was apparently ill in her appearances before that. Given that the residents of the place are coy about arranging for a meeting between Miss Baxter and Charlotte, it’s not unreasonable that she and Mrs. Watson start to wonder if Miss Baxter has been done away with.
*I’m confusing *myself* switching between Baxter and Moriarty, so for the rest of this I’m just going to call Moriarty Moriarty, Miss Baxter Miss Baxter (she’s only referred to as Miss Moriarty twice in the book, title notwithstanding), and Stephen Marbleton as Stephen Marbleton rather than “Mr. Baxter.”
An incident of fireworks set off at the Garden confuses things further. The back of Miss Baxter’s house is set alight, but even then the Hermeticists seem reluctant to bring her out in the open, furthering Charlotte’s suspicions. Later that same evening, Charlotte is able sneak into the house of the compound’s doctor, where she encounters another mysterious intruder (whose identity I did figure out before it was revealed! Yay for me!).
Back in London, Livia continues to try to find information on the meaning of the ticket stub; she encounters Stephen with two minders at the British Museum’s Reading Room, where he leaves another clue for her to follow. Livia continues to come into her own in this series, going from someone totally cowed by her parents and suffering extremely low self-esteem to someone who has written and published a book of Sherlock Holmes adventures and is a vital part of Charlotte’s team.
In retrospect, there were clues to the central mystery of Miss Baxter’s elusiveness; I wonder if other readers guessed. I didn’t! But I think one of the things about these books is that there is so much going on that I’m too distracted to even make many guesses or connections. I just read on, waiting for someone to explain to me what happened in the end. That’s not really a drawback for me as a reader, since I don’t read a lot of mysteries and don’t necessarily read with the goal of solving the case before the end.
Charlotte and Lord Ingram’s relationship continues to progress – he appears to be better reconciled to the idea that they aren’t going to end up in some sort of traditional Victorian marriage (which, considering how awful his marriage was, really probably isn’t a bad thing).
For some reason, Miss Moriarty, I Presume didn’t hold my attention quite as strongly as some of the previous books in the series have; it took me a long time to finish. That may be in part because
The story does get good mileage out of the central question, “is Moriarty for real here or is this whole thing a set up?” I was surprised at the degree to which Charlotte seemed to believe that he honestly wanted her help with his daughter. On the one hand, since Charlotte believed it I was inclined to as well, but on the other hand, I didn’t think she necessarily SHOULD believe it. The reality ended up being somewhat more complicated, and that made sense, but I was still convinced that Charlotte’s lack of skepticism wasn’t really justified.
I didn’t get a great sense of Moriarty as a character; I know he’s very smart and very dastardly and very scary, but I don’t quite *feel* it as a reader, at least not yet.
Miss Moriarty, I Presume was a solid entry into the series, and I’m giving it a solid B.