Review: The Hollow of Fear

Charlotte Holmes is back, and the stakes are higher than ever

The paragon of Victorian womanhood may have been demure and delicate, but there are no shrinking violets in the third novel of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series. The Hollow of Fear’s charm and tension come from Thomas’ dexterous use of a classic trope: A good guy is being framed, and our heroine’s racing the clock to find the real killer.

Here, it’s Charlotte Holmes, fallen woman and brainiac who makes her career as a consulting detective under the male pseudonym Sherlock, put in the position of saving her childhood friend, Lord Ingram, from hanging for the murder of his wife. Their mutual pining has been one of the series’ most potent emotional throughlines – readers are strongly advised not to jump into Hollow without first reading its two predecessors – and with Ingraham imperiled, we’re treated to a Holmes who is unnerved by how much she has to lose if she doesn’t solve the case.

The mystery at the novel’s heart is compelling enough – Thomas strings the reader along with just enough details that you feel sure you could solve it if you were only a little bit cleverer – but it’s once again the author's incisive and compassionate glimpses at how women survive the strictures of misogyny that place the book a cut above the rest. Whether she’s showing us an inspector’s struggles to understand his wife’s intellectual ambitions, families’ shame and confusion over having neurodiverse daughters, or society’s inability to reckon with a woman at ease with her own sexuality, Thomas invites us into a Victorian England that’s all at once romantic, adventurous, frightening and a little too close to home.

The Hollow of Fear
by Sherry Thomas
Berkley, 336 pp., $15

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mystery novels, Sherry Thomas, Lady Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes

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