In A Tempest at Sea, a twisty and turbulent installment of Sherry Thomas’ perennially entertaining Lady Sherlock mystery series, a glamorous Christie-esque cast sails into danger on the open seas.
A Tempest at Sea is the seventh adventure of Charlotte Holmes, a brilliant detective who solves mysteries while pretending to be the assistant of her brother, Sherlock, who in Thomas’ series does not exist and is merely the front for Charlotte’s exploits. The sleuth has recently faked her death in order to hide from Moriarty, a criminal mastermind whom Charlotte has tangled with in prior books. But now British spymaster Lord Remington has offered her a chance to return to her former life with his protection if she can find a missing dossier. The documents are soon to leave the country on the RMS Provence, protected by Moriarty’s minions. Charlotte disguises herself as a wealthy dowager and boards the ship, but then things get even more complicated. Two days into the voyage, one of the most notable passengers, a volatile self-made millionaire with a shady past, is shot dead. Charlotte and her beau, Lord Ingram, must get to the bottom of what happened, in addition to finding the dossier and protecting Charlotte’s secrets.
Thomas’ confidence and ease at the helm of the series is obvious, and she’s clearly having fun playing with the tropes and stock characters of the historical mystery subgenre. A Tempest at Sea recalls treasured Agatha Christie novels like Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, which feature a divergent group of personalities assembled for a luxury voyage that soon turns deadly. The Provence is a state-of-the-art, first-class-only steamer vessel spiriting old money and new to a host of disparate destinations, and the mystery makes the most of this setting. It’s the ultimate locked-door location—days from land, in international waters—and unlike the equally popular country house setting, there’s no escape, no reprieve and few hiding places.
There are rumblings of trouble among the passengers even before their departure, with entitled, resentful old money bumping up against the nouveau riche (both literally and figuratively). Everyone seems to harbor a secret agenda, and Thomas excels at developing these characters, especially their petty biases. Charlotte’s mother shows up and proceeds to act out against those of lesser station, and an aristocratic passenger loudly embarasses the sister of the eventual murder victim. Even in these minor skirmishes, the danger is palpable.
Though it’s not all smooth sailing—there are occasional gaps in logic, even if the charm of the characters, settings and twists outweighs them—it’s a joy to see the well-oiled Holmes team spring into action and to watch Ingram and Charlotte’s romantic relationship thrive.