4 stars out of 5
Somewhere it must be written that heroines (or heroes) of so-called cozy mysteries must be the most obnoxious and interfering people on the face of the earth. I realize that without those characteristics, the plots probably wouldn't go much of anywhere - but boy, does it ever get under my skin. Gemma Doyle, the heroine here and co-owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in tiny West London, Massachusetts, is no exception (in fact, I'd go so far as saying she's more annoying to me than most). That aside, the story here is well thought out and moves along quickly, on the whole making for a book I really enjoyed (honest!)
That enjoyment comes partly because I'm a bit of a Sherlock Holmes aficionado myself, especially when he's portrayed spot-on by actor Benedict Cumberbatch - one of the reasons I was delighted to get an advance copy, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Then there's mention of a lighthouse (a favorite photography subject for both myself and my husband); and the fact that Gemma drives a red Mazda Miata - one of my top three dream cars - made me decide she might not be so bad after all.
It was also fun to watch the plot unfold as a result of Gemma's uncanny Holmes-like deductions - even when she continues to make them despite clear warnings that she would do well to put a sock in it. At one point when she discovers that someone may have been lurking outside her home, for instance, she muses that someone might be suggesting that she back off. Oh really - you mean someone like the entire West London police, or your best friend Jayne who co-owns the tea shop next to your bookstore, or the ex-fiance who dumped you because he no longer could take your meddling ways?
For better or worse, though, better folks than I have told her she's too nosy for her own good, so I'll move on to the story - and for sure it's a doozy. Amid a crowd of women on a bus tour who visit the book shop one day is a "street" woman carrying a paper bag. Gemma's intrigued, but the woman gets lost in the crowd and forgotten until later, when Gemma discovers what appears to be an extremely valuable magazine hidden on a shelf. Certain that the disheveled woman left it there, Gemma uses her powers of deduction to track her down. To that end, she's successful - but when she and Jayne enter her hotel room (the door to which is conveniently unlocked to allow Gemma and Jayne unfettered but surreptitious entry), they make a startling discovery: The woman is dead.
That, of course, only provides fuel to Gemma's sleuthing fires; and when she finds that she and Jayne are considered persons of interest in the murder, she's even more determined to get to the truth (being suspected murderers, after all, is bad for both their businesses).
The lead detective on the murder case, Ryan Ashburton, happens to be Gemma's ex-fiance, who bolted outta Dodge to take a job in a larger town when they broke up. He's been back for a while now, which comes as a surprise to Gemma (a tidbit that, given West London's small size, made me conclude that her powers of observation are a bit selective). Thankfully, he doesn't believe Gemma is capable of murder, but after she sticks her nose in one too many places - and (gasp!) finds yet another dead body after sneaking onto someone else's private property, he's yanked off the case because his prior relationship has the potential to unduly influence his investigation (yikes, what took them so long)?
Lest I, like Gemma, be chastised for treading where I shouldn't go, I'll keep other details of the investigation - and the for the most part surprising outcome - to myself. The only thing I'll say is that this is an excellent series debut that I'm sure fans of cozy mysteries - and Sherlock Holmes - will enjoy. "The game is afoot" (Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange), so go for it!
Elementary, She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany (Crooked Lane Books, March 2017), 320 pp.