Book Review: A Study of Charlotte

a study in charlotte

The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.

Pros – A good mystery, interesting dynamic between “Watson” and “Holmes”, engaging quick read

Cons – Charlotte is too…well Holmes like, wavers between being a straight up “re-imagining” and “inspired by”, possibly the adults in this book (with ONE exception) are just on drugs the entire time

Review – To get it out of the way the ONLY adult I like in this entire book is Milo (Charlotte’s older awesome brother). But I almost always trend towards the Mycroft characters for some reason so that’s less surprising then it should be.

This is/was the third Sherlock Holmes inspired/re-telling I’ve read in the last two years. They’re each so different in how they go about it that I don’t feel like I’ve become glutted on them however, which is good since I am intrigued enough in all three cases to want to continue and would hate if I got sick of it. This one takes a turn by saying that Holmes and Watson were totally real folk, that the Watsons have mostly faded into literary shadows of infrequent interest while the Holmes have kept themselves firmly entrenched in being detectives helping out Scotland Yard. One has to wonder if Scotland Yard could, by this point of time in that universe, actually function independent of the Holmes’.

Cavallaro doesn’t really concern herself overmuch with how the families continued – James and Charlotte are both direct descendants, so that means Watson and Holmes both got themselves families at one point (families that stuck that is), but how this came about (or with who) isn’t discussed. Which as this is a first person POV from James’ view I suppose it makes sense. That’s all information he already knows (to some degree) so why bothering thinking about it?

James succeeds moreso as a descendant of Watson’s who’s enough of an individual to stand apart from his illustrious ancestor. He’s clever, though not entirely reliant on stuff he’s learned as he is on experience and basic common sense logic when it comes to people. Charlotte meanwhile is…well she’s both too much like Sherlock Holmes and too little. She’s clearly a genius, serious-minded, impatient with most people and driven to know the answer. But then she has moments of un-Holmes like behavior – dancing (badly) at recent pop songs is a large instance of this, but there’s smaller ones that are jarring.

In the “epilogue” its Charlotte speaking about all the inaccuracies in James’ account of their meeting/adventures. She makes a point to say that James’ romanticizes and “softens” her quite a lot. Its an interesting thing since its something rarely thought about when it comes to first person POV narratives – how intentional is the author’s writing when it comes to making a character seem at odds with how they’re described? Personal narrative colors any story ever told, so how often do authors take that into account when writing?

If Charlotte’s manner is being recorded/seen by James, is his recounting of Charlotte then compromised? The problem of Charlotte being…disjointed in a lot ways, can that be laid at Cavallaro intentionally giving us a skewed perspective as seen by James?

I’m not sure which would be the answer I necessarily want.

As for the novel itself, I did have some doubts about Charlotte’s involvement in the death of the classmate/ensuing chaos. While I found the eventual enemy’s reveal a bit…eh…?…it was clear that Cavallaro put a lot of thought into the build up and suspense while tying in a lot of the original Holmes and Watson stories.

OH let me speak real quick about the Holmes family. Offhandedly James mentions that throughout the decades the Holmes’ have, to some degree or another, all had substance abuse issues (primarily with opiates like their dear ancestor). Now far be it for me to judge them, but I can’t help but wonder if NONE of them, in their infinite genius, ever thought it could be because they push themselves (and their kids) to be inhumanly GREAT. Did not a single Holmes go on to be an artist or chef? Did none of them say ‘screw this!’ and run off to ignore everything it meant to be a Holmes? Did they ALL become these paragons of greatness?

Though they’re really just part of the problem I had with the adults in general. This is set at a boarding school in the US (CT in specific), so there’s teachers and nurses and other various adults roaming about (hell even a school drug peddler, who’s basically the mascot if you ask me). They were either useless (James’ father), outright hindrances (Detective Shepard) or so utterly suspicious I can’t believe they got away with everything they did. And I don’t buy for a second that Scotland Yard wouldn’t have been on the horn and been like “What do you mean you have Charlotte Holmes as your primary suspect for murder?”. Say what you will but law enforcement agencies take care of their own (until it becomes clear they are utterly guilty, then they stop).

Yet you’d think James and Charlotte acted in a vacuum world of their own making. Other then the occasional “We’re watching you” or “Watch yourselves”, no one takes notice of their comings and goings. To the point where Charlotte as her own closet lab (which whatever I can’t with these Holmes types sometimes) with SHELVES of poisons (and knives!) and no one seems to be alarmed about this, Not even the police. Like…what the hell guys? Due diligence maybe?

Still, despite my reservations, I am intrigued to see where this goes. LOCK & MORI is almost guaranteed to make my heart hurt by the end of it, the Portia Adams books are so fluffy and light, so this series hopefully will fulfill whatever piece is missing.

Want to Know More?

Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Release: March 16, 2016
Series: First in Series
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Lexie Words

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