Review: Sherry Thomas’s A TEMPEST AT SEA (Lady Sherlock #7)

Tempest_At_SeaI always enjoyed Thomas’s romances, back when she was writing them, but I think she found her “true” genre with the Lady Sherlock mystery series. The latest, A Tempest At Sea, maintains what the previous six proved: Thomas can write clever, complex mystery plots while keeping her ethically-minded, sympathetic protagonists front and centre. Lady Charlotte features, but A Tempest At Sea is an ensemble cast (to the series’s betterment) one in which we get to be with Charlotte’s lover, Lord Ingram, on a greater page count than Charlotte. Given how adorable “Ash,” Lord Ingram, is, the loss is bearable, though I would have liked to see more of Charlotte and even more of Charlotte and Ash together. On the other hand, A Tempest At Sea is a closed-“room”, rather closed-“ship” mystery and, as a Christie-fan, cause for celebration and enjoyment, as Ash notes, ” ‘The isolation of shipboard society heightens the sense of danger.’ “ To orient us, the publisher’s blurb:

Charlotte Holmes’s life is in peril when her brilliant deductive skills are put to the test in her most dangerous investigation yet, locked aboard a ship at sea.

After feigning her own death in Cornwall to escape from Moriarty’s perilous attention, Charlotte Holmes goes into hiding. But then she receives a tempting offer: Find a dossier the crown is desperately seeking, and she might be able to go back to a normal life.
Her search leads her aboard the RMS Provence. But on the night Charlotte makes her move to retrieve the dossier, in the midst of a terrifying storm in the Bay of Biscay, a brutal murder takes place on the ship. Instead of solving the crime, as she is accustomed to doing, Charlotte must take care not to be embroiled in this investigation, lest it become known to those who harbor ill intentions that Sherlock Holmes is abroad and still very much alive.

Delicious trouble begins as soon as Ingram, his children, and their governess, Charlotte, her partner, Mrs. Watson, sister Olivia, and quite a few others, friends, enemies, and strangers embark the Provence. It is among these varied, sundry figures that the crime occurs and among them too that the murderer will be found. Until then, Charlotte and her family, friends, and lover, as well as the other passengers, will live with a murderer on board. Among them too is Inspector Brighton of Scotland Yard who will be at the centre of the investigation, with Lord Ingram as his assistant. Because Charlotte is in disguise as the formidable many-wrinkled Mrs. Ramsay, she of the lion-headed cane and booming voice, with her companion, Miss Fenwick, aka Mrs. Watson, her part in the investigation remains at the pragmatically-meddling old lady level. Lord Ingram provides details from the many witnesses whose statements he notes, while the Inspector interrogates. (Add to this the surprise appearance of Lady Holmes, Charlotte and Olivia’s mother, in all her stupid narcissism and we can add family dysfunctional dynamics to Thomas’s multi-genre read.) Through police testimony, Thomas reveals the passengers’ tragedies, comedies, and tragi-comedies, their pettiness, or worthiness, cleverness, or sheer stupidity. It is clever plotting, revelation of full-bodied characterization, and an homage to the closed-room mystery.

“He’d always loved this about long ocean voyages, the distance from settled lands, the occasional sense that the ship and only the ship has existed since time immemorial. But now the isolation felt oppressive, the danger, inescapable.” 

And Thomas still has room for intrigue in the ever-present malevolence of Moriarity and his threats to Charlotte and everyone she loves. Thomas also has room for what I enjoyed the most: her main characters’ emotional, intimate, and inner lives. Because Thomas has chosen to make her heroine neuro-diverse, we can only know her from what she says and does, leaving us with the rich and loving inner lives of her Ash, Olivia, and everyone in Charlotte’s inner circle. This makes for wonderful narrative variety: we learn the passengers’ stories through their testimonies and our ensemble sleuthing cast through inner monologue, as well as gesture and dialogue. My favourite passage contains much of what I’ve described:

“I came because I missed you.” He was on his feet before he’d quite understood what he’d heard. His ears rang. “Don’t say things like that.” She glanced up, her large blue eyes at once transparent and unreadable. “Why not?” Because I”ve made my peace with the fact that you will never say — or feel — such things. He heard himself chortle. “You’re right. What was I thinking? By all means, feel free to say it as often as you’d like.” She took another forkful of cake. “Since our last meeting in Eastleigh Park — no, since before that — I’ve been thinking of you at a rather unnecessary frequency.” The floor dropped — he took a step back not to lose his balance. Her words made sense individually, but together they were only a roar in his head. She looked — and sounded — as if she were talking about some outlandish gadget she’d read about in the Patent Office catalogues. That was familiar. Her aloofness from her own emotions was also familiar. But what she was telling him — was she saying anything remotely similar to what he thought she meant? The floor tilted again…She…rose, and closed the distance between them. She peered at him, as if she’d never seen him before. Her hand cupped his cheek, the touch a jolt down his spine. “Have I always liked you this much?”

Why did I like this? While there is, yes, a feminist “twist” to making the greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, a woman, there is another more subtle, feminist twist here. To make her emotions at times inaccessible, or remote to her and centre the couple’s emotional life on the hero. Overall, my critique of the novel is how little we see of Charlotte (thanks to pages given up to the Inspector’s interrogations) and also how Thomas “fills in” the events to the final murderer’s revelation with narrative flashback (making for this reader’s occasional confusion), but this emotional richness as evidenced by the above paragraph won me over completely. Miss Austen would approve with “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Sherry Thomas’s A Tempest At Sea is published by Berkley and releases today, March 14th. I received an e-ARC from Berkley, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review, which does not influence my opinion in any way.

6 thoughts on “Review: Sherry Thomas’s A TEMPEST AT SEA (Lady Sherlock #7)

  1. Lovely review! My paper copy came today and I jumped right in. Loving it so far, which is not a surprise, as I have loved everything Thomas has written. Here’s hoping that Real Life lets me sink into reading it…


    1. Thank you! Yay, you have your copy…wafting major reader-love at Real Life to let you sink! It’s well-paced, so I read steadily over two days or so. Alas, these are the final days of my March break, reading-time will, once again, be a luxury.


      1. I finished this last night, having enjoyed every page. I think my favorite part was watching Ash worry himself to near death over just how much the Inspector would discover re: his and Charlotte’s activities that had nothing to do with the murders.
        Now the waiting begins for the next one. Ms Thomas’s end of book hints left us with a number of interesting things to ponder as we wait.


        1. Ash is my favourite character! I love everything about him: his care for his children, his humble understanding of his own handsomeness, and his love for Charlotte and what she can and cannot feel.

          I’m eager for the next and I hope there is one!


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