A Study in Charlotte
There have been female takes on Sherlock Holmes before, but A Study in Charlotte beautifully blends the traditional detective with a teen romance and a young adult boarding school novel.
James “Jamie” Watson is a new student at the Sherringford boarding school in Connecticut. Although American by birth, he’s previously been living in London with his divorced mom. He wants to be a writer but has to play on the rugby team for his scholarship. He’s the latest generation of the famous family, who tend to bump into the Holmes family at charity and historical events.
Charlotte Holmes has previously been attending the same school, sent away from England due to a drug problem. She’s a deductive genius, trained as all the members of her family have been in the practice, and has set up a private lab.
When another member of the rugby team is found dead in a way that mimics “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, Watson is a leading suspect, since they previously had a fistfight over her. Of course, the two are drawn together in trying to find out what really happened. (The “Blue Carbuncle” and “Dying Detective” cases also get mentioned.)
Brittany Cavallaro nicely balances the emotions of Jamie, as he gets to know Charlotte and tries to figure out how deep his feelings for her go, with the detecting. Then there’s the tawdry appeal of “rich kids gone bad” with the drugs and the drinking and the sex at the prep school. Jamie’s struggling with building a new relationship with his estranged father as Charlotte serves as a symbol of the problems of celebrity culture, of living up to a famous name. There are a lot of threads here that intertwine into a compelling read.
It’s very difficult to make a Holmes (or a Watson) that isn’t a caricature, that goes beyond all the tics — drugs, violin, abrupt manners, costumes — to capture the timeless appeal. Cavallaro does an excellent job with both the trivia and the deeper allure of the characters. And I’m fascinated by some of the other Holmes family members she mentions in passing. This is the start of a trilogy, so let’s hope we see more of them in the future, along with Charlotte and Jamie.