Find it at your library!

A gender-bent mystery in which the famous, brilliant detective is not Sherlock, but Charlotte, Holmes is not something I knew I wanted, but now that I’ve read it, I want ALL THE SEQUELS. I need more Charlotte and her delightful Mrs. Watson!

In this first entry in the series, Charlotte has just irreparably ruined her own reputation—on purpose. Determined to make a go of life on her own instead of depending on a man, she is looking for a way to earn a living when three people turn up dead, all from the same poison. Charlotte thinks the deaths must be linked, but it won’t be easy for a woman in her position to investigate.  

If you like your mysteries on the cerebral and genteel side, this is the series you want. Thomas’s writing is just so classy. I tried to come up with a better way to put it, but that’s the word that fits the best. It’s like pretty pastel petit fours lined up in the window of a French bake shop: precise and attractive and sweet. Classy. It’s even more amazing when you consider that English isn’t her first language.

That said, it doesn’t make for an easy, breezy read. I actually finished the book and then immediately reread the last third to make sure I had everything right. This is not the kind of book you can snooze through and expect a big payoff. There are a lot of minor characters to keep track of, and they all seem to have complicated relationships with each other. Plot-wise, this book is a tangled web. But I liked Charlotte and her friends so much I was willing to do a bit of unraveling to get my money’s worth. As you would expect from a character based on Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte is pretty complex, and it’s obvious that what we learn about her in this volume is just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two!

Find it at your library!

Reading Helen Oyeyemi is like working out with a friendly but very aggressive personal trainer. At some point, you’re going to find yourself splayed out on the mat, panting like an animal and protesting that it’s too hard, you can’t do one more set. And then she'll blow her whistle in your face and cheerfully scream at you to get a move on.

In much the same way as a good, hard workout eventually leads to an endorphin-fueled breakthrough, Oyeyemi’s short stories eventually clarified for me, and what began as a veins-bulging effort relaxed into a steady rhythm that I could keep pace with. Oyeyemi will never let you get comfortable, but if you strap on your weight belt and bring the intensity, her brand of magical realism will slowly coalesce into something you can hold, loosely, if not fully grasp.

I’m not a big re-reader, but this collection seems ripe for revisiting. In fact, when I finished the first story, “Books and Roses,” I flipped right back to the beginning and started again, convinced I’d missed something. I still don’t know if I did or not, even after reading it through twice. Oyeyemi is slippery that way. I wish I had encountered books like this in my college English curriculum—I think it would have totally floored me to read about the world as it actually is, as opposed to how it was, for privileged white men, hundreds of years ago. And yes, I realize the strangeness of referring to Oyeyemi as a realist when her work is so clearly fantastical, but her characters—these are people I recognize, that are real, that could exist somewhere and have something important to say, even though history up to this point has told them in no uncertain terms that they are insignificant due to their gender or skin tone or sexuality, and therefore not worthy of a voice.

With regards to Riverhead and Goodreads for the beautiful (deckle-edged! What?!) advance copy, which I was lucky enough to win in a recent giveaway. On sale tomorrow, March 8!