The Missing Volume
It was my first visit to The Ripped Bodice, a romance-forward bookstore in Culver City, California. Any employee pointed me toward a book called A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. It was the first in a new Sherlock-Holmes-inspired series. “This is one of our most popular books,” the helpful clerk told me. Maybe I presented as a prude. In the years of avid patronage that have ensued, I have never — NEVER — acquired any book from The Ripped Bodice that contained less “romance” than the Lady Sherlock series. But the clerk had merely told me that it was a bestseller, and that had been, simply, a fact.
Oh, but that was many moons ago, friends. The Lady Sherlock plot has thickened considerably in the intervening years, as has my own stack of Lady Sherlock books (also: other books from The Ripped Bodice). It’s exciting to be enjoying an ongoing series with no clear end in sight. For years now, I’ve been able to finish one mysterious volume and vaguely anticipate the next. These are the only mystery books that I read. I’m not a super-fan. But I like them.
In the early months of 2021, I was deep into a ritual of lengthly neighborhood walks. Every other Sunday, I’d walk southeast toward Echo Park, and it was during this ritual that I first tried out listening to the latest Lady Sherlock book — Book 5, Murder On Cold Street — as an audio book. It was read with a prim British accent by Kate Reading and paired nicely with a long walk, the balance of my attention neatly shared between the plot and my by-now-familiar environment.
I rented the audiobook from the library. While I grew to enjoy the book, at the time I started it, it had been a while since I’d finished the previous Lady Sherlock book. Listening to Book 5’s earliest pages, I was a little lost. I replayed them more than once, trying to remember…what had happened with Charlotte’s brother at the end of the previous book? Am I supposed to understand what’s happening right now? Or will it become clear in time?
Eventually, the driving plot of the book took hold — acquitting a longstanding character of a murder he seemed to have committed, but which we feel certain he could not have committed. The plot was engaging. I chalked the early-chapter confusion up to my own forgetfulness; I just hadn’t remembered the plot of the previous book well enough to understand the insinuations the author was making. It’s Sherlock Holmes, after all: one must stay on one’s proverbial toes.
At the end of last year, Lady Sherlock #6 — Miss Moriarity, I Presume? — was released. I put myself on the waitlist for the audiobook, in hopes of listening as I drove to New Mexico for the holidays. No such luck; the waitlist was months long. So, I visited The Ripped Bodice and purchased a copy for myself. I started to read it at night before bed, but found that the book was more effective at getting me to sleep that I was effective at getting it read. It was engaging, but it was just so…complex. It kept referring to a past caper, a French art heist that the characters had recently pulled off. As with the previous book, I got the sense that I was missing something right off the bat. The art heist thing struck me as an oddly dense storyline to pack into subtext, but I hoped that, like a modern-day Netflix drama, all would be revealed in time. During all of Christmas vacation, I read perhaps two chapters of the book.
Then, at last, my library hold came through. I switched from the hard copy to a digital audiobook, and began listening to the book at night, with the Libby app, using a sleep timer in case I fell asleep before a given chapter was through. That’s how I learned that this book was even more magically soporific as an audiobook than it had been in print. Now my relationship to the book was becoming truly bizarre; I was more than halfway through it, but at a pace of perhaps 10 minutes of reading per night; I valued it deeply as a sleep aid, but was increasingly frustrated with it as a work of fiction. Why had we still not had any more details about this art heist? If Thomas was going to keep referencing it, one would think that the event would be fully explained before chapter 17! I began to think that, after six books, perhaps this Lady Sherlock series was no longer my thing. Back to Spindle Cove for me, post haste.
So effective a lullaby was this book, read by the aptly named Ms. Reading, that the due date for my e-Audiobook came and went. Because the waitlist remained long, I had no option to extend my loan. Now I was in dire straits. Sure, if all I cared about was finishing the story, I could just read my normal, paperback copy of the book. But for three weeks, I’d come to rely on having the book read to me to put me to sleep. I wasn’t ready to give that up. Not yet.
A lightbulb went off: I could check out the eAudiobook of an earlier volume in the series! Surely they’d be in lesser demand, so maybe there’d be no waitlist at all. On top of that, I would already be familiar with the stories, so they might be — dare I dream it — even more effective at getting me to sleep. I opened Libby and searched for the series.
The covers of the Lady Sherlock books are all of a kind: a well-dressed woman has her back to the frame. She looks out upon a striking vista of one type or another. As I said, I own several of these books; I recognize the cover of Book #1, A Study in Scarlet Women. Book #2, A Conspiracy In Belgravia. Book #3, The Hollow of Fear, Book #4 — wait, hold up.
Book #4? The Art of Theft? On the cover, a woman in a wine-colored jacket and matching bustled skirt looks out at a green-gray walkway lined with stone edifices. Between the cover and the title, there was not a doubt in my mind: I had never read this book.
So I checked it out. I downloaded it. I started to listen to it. I’m only a few chapters in after a couple days, but must say, it’s not doing a great job of getting me to sleep. And, unsurprisingly the plot seems to be leading toward some kind of art heist. Possibly in France.
How I managed to skip a volume of this series, I really cannot say; let’s blame the confusion of 2020, ignoring the fact that this missed book was released in October of 2019. What strikes me most about this mix-up isn’t how I managed to miss the book; it’s the way I managed to convince myself that I hadn’t missed a book.
When Book #5 began, I was instantly confused. Yet, instead of checking to see if I’d missed something, I assumed that the fault was all mine — in the time since the previous book, I must’ve just forgotten some salient plot points.
When Book #6 began to referring to past events I’d not witnessed, I was annoyed. Yet, instead of checking to see if I’d missed something, I decided that this author — one who is quickly rising in the ranks of my most-read-ever — had lost her touch.
We all have our blind spots. And we all have the creative ability to fill those blind spots in with sketchy explanations of our own making. Then, we can convince ourselves that our explanations are real. Instead of sketches, we see photographs. Then, most dangerous of all, we draw conclusions about the present and the future that are based on false assumptions about the past.
There is little in life where such a blind spot could matter less than skipping a volume in a book series. I had no idea I’d missed The Art of Theft. I didn’t think I’d missed anything at all. But now, I have my head on a swivel. What else have I missed, without realizing? And what assumptions am I making as a result?