Elementary, She Read
There’s nothing new about bookstore owner mysteries, but I was drawn to Elementary, She Read because of its subtitle: “A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery”. And I was entertained by how Vicki Delany gives an appropriate set of characteristics to her lead character.
Gemma Doyle is English but living in Cape Cod so she can manage her uncle’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. She’s not a huge fan, but she likes the seaside town and her life there after leaving behind an ex-husband. She’s added plenty of memorabilia to the shop’s stock, attracting more customers with DVDs and collectibles, which account for many of the amusing Holmes references made in passing.
Gemma’s also very observant, which gets her in trouble. She has a Sherlock-like ability to assess people at a glance, but it affects her relationships and causes her to become a murder suspect. (She seems to know too much, which makes detectives suspicious.) Which is why she starts trying to figure out what happened on her own.
The mystery revolves around a copy of the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, the Beeton’s Christmas Annual that contained A Study in Scarlet. If it’s authentic, it could be worth over half a million dollars. But the woman who hid it in the bookstore (trees in a forest, right?) is found dead. Other suspects include a rare book dealer, a collector looking for bargains, and several litigious heirs with financial issues.
Gemma’s assisted by her best friend Jayne Wilson, a baker who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, so there’s food, and of course, as required in a cozy mystery, there’s a romantic angle. Gemma’s ex-boyfriend Ryan is the lead detective until his co-worker finds out about their past and gets him removed from the case.
I liked the details that captured the feel of the town and the retail business, and I liked more that Delany gives Gemma the observational aspects of a Holmesian character without the anti-emotion pieces that so often go along with them. Too often a Sherlockian detective is one who thinks they have license to be a jerk. By giving Gemma an emotional life as well as an intellectual one, she works as an allusion to but not a copy of the Great Detective.
Oh, and there’s a dog named Violet and a cat named Moriarty, and a nice emphasis on how to tell a true collectible from things that aren’t necessarily worth a lot. This is labeled a “series debut” — I’m eager to read the next one already!
The author has posted the first chapter at her website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)