The Sign of Four Spirits
by Vicki Delany
published by Crooked Lane Books on 09 Jan 2024
AMBER LOVE 29-Jan-2024 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.
Gemma Doyle won’t be spooked when a body shows up at the psychic fair in bestselling author Vicki Delany’s ninth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery.
When a psychic fair arrives in West London, Gemma Doyle, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, wants nothing to do with it. But somehow, at the urging of Donald Morris, an enthusiastic Sherlockian, she finds herself talked into attending a séance, along with baker and best friend Jayne Wilson, store assistant, Ashleigh, and former pop star Bunny Leigh.
But to her surprise, Gemma finds herself banned from the séance and shown the door. Curious, she listens in from outside the room. The medium informs a disappointed Donald that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will not be able to make it tonight. Then, Gemma hears a voice cut off, a cry for help, a scream. Gemma bursts into the library to see that someone has collapsed on the table–dead. The windows are all locked, and Gemma was guarding the only door. Someone in this room is a murderer. But who?
The game is once again afoot for Gemma Doyle, as she hunts a killer. But, this time, is the killer of flesh and blood or had the medium summoned doom from beyond the veil?
The timing for me to read The Sign of Four Spirits by Vicki Delany was kismet. The Sisters in Crime Grand Canyon chapter had her as their January guest speaker open to all SinC members and held over Zoom. I’ve seen Vicki speak in person and her fortitude in writing seems unparalleled. She’s written over 50 books!
For this review, rather than simply gush about how much I love this series set in a fictional Cape Cod town which sounds like my idea of a perfect life, I’ll break down a bit of how the author structures this mystery plot.
Gemma Doyle is the main character and a descendant of the great Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She uprooted her life to co-habitate with her Uncle Arthur who is hardly ever home. Delany has created a sleuth much like her inspiration, Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of the series, Gemma begins to learn that she can be rough around the edges, a bit unfriendly and gruff. However, Gemma is a softer and kinder version of Sherlock. She has two dogs at home, Violet and Peony; plus a black cat, Moriarty, who lives at her Sherlock Holmes bookshop and emporium. Gemma also makes time for romance. At this point (the ninth book of the series), Gemma is dating a police detective.
Gemma has all of the acute awareness of her surroundings. She knows there are seventeen steps up to her office. She can tell if there’s a stray hair on someone’s coat. She’ll notice everything from mud on sneakers to how many glasses are in a room. When it comes to finding any evidence and unmasking offenders, Gemma doesn’t always have time for a plan.
As an Easter Egg, her shop cat, Moriarty does not like her. They tolerate each other and have affection, but it’s not on display the way Gemma loves her energetic dogs, Peony and Violet.
Jayne Wilson fills in as Dr. John Watson. Jayne runs the teashop side of the Sherlock-themed enterprise. She’s a chef/baker, an employer, a best friend to Gemma, and a fiancée to a restaurant chef. Needless to say, Jayne has her hands full even before she gets intertwined into the West London mysteries. She’s the Yin the Gemma’s Yang. Her role is important in providing the protagonist with reminders about being more approachable. She also ends up providing necessary sparks through casual conversation that ignite Gemma into putting the puzzle pieces together.
The Four Spirits:
This story revolves around a séance that takes place in large manor/mansion on the Cape. The spirits that allegedly come through are connected to individuals present. Madame Laval, the medium, could have done some preliminary work to find out who the attendees would want to contact, but there’s one voice that comes a shock and no one claims to know who it is until the climax.
- Young people needing to find their own way vs. parental expectations
Plotting and Pacing:
Many people who want to write a book (mysteries, in particular) tackle them as if they have to reinvent the wheel. Outlining may not work for everyone, but I do not understand how someone starting out wouldn’t even have a beat sheet or scribbled notes about when events must happen in order for the story to move along. After 50 books, I don’t know if it’s necessary for an accomplished mystery writer like Delany to make an outline.
Since I read from a digital review copy, my notes on plotting are in percent-completed not page number:
21% first victim murdered;
41% some details of Gemma’s history are sprinkled in to get new readers caught up;
42% a major insight to how certain attendees of the séance (scene of first murder) were connected;
48% biggest motive for the second of the murders revealed;
56% motive for why some people were at the séance in the first place and red herring that first victim might have been a case of mistaken identity;
63% prime suspect eliminated from the list;
71% dramatic action leading to the second murder;
78% the original prime suspect lands back at the top of the list for the first murder which is negated a short time later at 80%;
82% protagonist intuits that someone else may be in grave danger which could lead to a third murder; this pushes her to bolt into action;
86% climax; the protagonist and murderer have their faceoff to get all the explanations and reasons out into the open; this leads to some resolution;
87% (chapter 25 of 27) this is chapter where the protagonist gets her “Agatha Christie Moment” assembling people including the police to bring down the murderer;
The wrap-up follows in the last two chapters.
This breakdown shows the development Delany took to move characters through their arcs. This is not, by any means, a detailed breakdown, merely highlights. Things come together for everyone who had their own side stories.
Vicki Delany’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series can be used as a masterclass outline for How to Write a Cozy Mystery. Gemma Doyle continues to be a character full of intuition and keen observations.
Rating: 5 stars