Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

I am a massive fan of Sherlock Holmes, and mysteries in general. So when I saw a couple other bloggers reviewing this book, which is themed around Holmes, I knew I had to read it. Sadly, this book was actually pretty disappointing. I’ll explain in a minute.

Release: March 14th, 2017

Synopsis: Gemma Doyle is an intelligent British woman who co-owns a Sherlock Holmes themed bookstore in New England. When she finds a rare, expensive magazine dropped on one of her bookshelves, she and her best friend Jayne go to find the owner, only to stumble upon her dead body instead. With Gemma as the main suspect, she must use her quick mind and vivid observation skills to find the true killer.

Non-Spoiler Review

Where do I start with this book?

Before I start ranting about it, let me just say it’s not a horrible book. It has interesting red herrings, good motivation for the protagonist to try to solve the murder, and it was well-paced. If you love cozy mysteries, you might like this one. On a very shallow level, it gives tribute to Sherlock Holmes as well as other mystery writers (like Wilkie Collins and Laurie R. King).

But once you break the top level of this book, boy does it have so many problems.

I’ll start with the setting itself, as the entire book is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes-themed. If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes (both his methodology and his complex cases), there is nothing in this book that is interesting. Besides the story being set in a Sherlock Holmes bookstore and Gemma Doyle being slightly observant, there is nothing to tie this book to Sherlock Holmes. Like many mystery writers, it’s like Delany picked Sherlock Holmes just to get fans of his stories to read her book (I mean, it worked for me, so I can’t be too critical).

My own and biggest complaint was Gemma herself. In the beginning, Gemma is introduced as a female Sherlock Holmes. She is a fan of his work, but she is also highly observant, noticing intricacies about people that few would notice. But it becomes quickly obvious that her character is a massive contradiction. She’s intelligent and observant, but she misses the most obvious clues and blushes at the sight of a hot guy. She’s logical, but also incredibly emotional. Perhaps the author was simply trying to make her seem more human, as Sherlock Holmes is pretty much a walking, talking brain, but it came across as trying too hard to develop a bland character.

There is one scene early on when Gemma sees her ex-boyfriend and starts talking very fast and irrationally. Her friend Jayne comments that Gemma does this when she’s nervous. However, not only does this idea never come up again, but in fact Gemma never demonstrates this behavior even when she is nervous. This and other small details and actions made her character seem not genuine.

Also, the amount of references to other mystery writers seemed absurd. If you have a couple references, fine, but in the first twenty-five pages, there were three mentions of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series (which is awesome, but I do not need to be reminded of its existence multiple times). And that is just one example of the pointless references to other books.

To get more into the biggest issues I had with this book, I will have to give away the ending. Usually, I would not spoil the ending to a mystery, but because this one I would not recommend to anyone, I can in a clear conscious spoil everything.

Spoiler Alert!

In any mystery, and I’ve probably talked about this idea a lot on my blog, by the end when the killer is revealed, all the logic should fall together in your head and you should be like, “Oh, why didn’t I realize it was them!”

But let me just say in this one, when the killer was revealed to be Ruby (Gemma’s employee at the store who was secretly the granddaughter of the man who owned the magazine), I was baffled. I was like, “Where the hell did that come from?” (Forgive my language.) The only hint that she was the killer is that she left the store right before the woman was murdered. She went from being a snotty employee to being a crazy, psycho murderer. I don’t care how well a person is at hiding their feelings; no one could have a personality change like she does.

Also, what was that stupid plot twist about the magazine actually being a forgery and thus worthless! And Gemma just happened to figure that out but never bothered to tell the reader? The reason it worked in Sherlock Holmes is because we saw the story from John Watson’s perspective, but being in Gemma’s head gives the author no excuse for keeping information from the reader.

Finally, Gemma just happens to figure out Ruby is the murderer, and she’s certain this time, even though five minutes ago she was accusing someone else. I mean, really? In any good mystery, the protagonist does not go around accusing people until they are certain, unless they are a stupid character. This doesn’t fit in at all with Gemma’s supposedly ‘intelligent’ character.

Let me just say if she had been portrayed as not so intelligent and observant, I would not be as critical of many of her flaws. But because she is made out to be this brilliant person but really is rather stupid, it bugged me to no end.


So, what did I learn from this book? Maybe not to read any book just because it is connected to something I love. I’m done with reading retellings or themed books (at least until I forget I hate them and read another one), because most of them suck anyway.

Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to write this review just after I finished this book, and before I had a chance to calm down, but it’s written now and I am not giving any more of my life to this book.

Basically, the mystery was okay, the ending was a let-down, and the protagonist was very poorly developed. That is my conclusion.

Have you guys read this book? What is your opinion about this in particular novel or cozy mysteries in general? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

  1. I’ve only read one Holmes book, The Hound of the Baskervilles, when I was in High School. Doyle is one of those writers that I often try to read but then something else always gets in the way. On your point about retellings, I have the same feeling. The last time I made the attempt to read a retelling was Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy which is a modern retelling of The Great Gatsby. While it was okay for a while, after those first 75 or 80 pages it just felt like I had read it before. I decided from that point, I’d try to stick to the originals.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! It is rare to find a retelling which is as good as the original, much less better. I haven’t read Gorsky, though I’m not a huge fan of The Great Gatsby, so I definitely will not check it out. Thanks for your thoughts!


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