Are you Sherlocked? The new season of the PBS show, Sherlock, has sent me down a Holmes and Watson rabbit hole. Luckily, the popularity of the television shows Sherlock and Elementary on CBS along with the recent films starring Robert Downey, Jr., have inspired a rash of titles featuring the classic characters. I’ve found radio plays, comics, stories imagining Holmes solving crimes without Watson or the other way ‘round, tales riffing on the original canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, books attempting to tie Holmes to Jack the Ripper or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a series depicting Sherlock in middle school, novellas featuring Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, adventures of Sherlock’s purported vampire twin, retellings from the perspective of Professor Moriarty, countless puzzle books, numerous “how to” titles for the art of deduction, and—believe it or not—a board book for infants entitled Little Master Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer. (On a side note, the last entry is part of a board book series that includes baby versions of Moby Dick and Anna Karenina in addition to the Pride and Prejudice parody, Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.)
An interesting newcomer to the mountain of Holmes titles is last year’s A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s tagline, “You’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before.” Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are 21st-century descendants of John and Sherlock—both Londoners dropped into an upper-crust Connecticut boarding school for reasons I cannot relate due to massive spoilers. (Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of this plot I cannot reveal due to spoilers, massive or moderate.) Watson and Holmes are atypical teens leading atypical lives trying to balance homework assignments, dances, and rugby practices with extortion, kidnapping, and murder.
James “Jamie” Watson meets Charlotte Holmes at Sherringford, the posh school he attends on a rugby scholarship. Jamie secretly wants to be a writer, an aspiration he cultivates out of the public eye as he navigates his new surroundings. He has grown up in the U.S. and, most recently, London which he misses desperately. Jamie’s estranged father and his new family live only an hour away, another sore point. Charlotte, as you can imagine, has been busy with other activities. Her upbringing reflects the family business—training in observation, deduction, the sciences (yes, all the sciences) sprinkled with lessons in lock picking, computer hacking, and wiretapping. Jamie first spies Charlotte at the weekly poker game she runs in her dormitory’s basement. A few days later, they officially meet and have the awkward conversation about their ancestors; a few weeks later, they are becoming crime solving colleagues bonding over clues in Charlotte’s personal laboratory. By the end of the semester, they are fighting for each others’ lives.
This book is really about relationships—between Charlotte and Jamie, Charlotte and her family, Jamie and his family, Charlotte and her past, the main characters and the school, Charlotte and…wait a minute, can’t tell you that one another spoiler (a HUGE one, trust me). Certainly there is plenty of action-filled plot; by finals week, this Holmes and Watson duo unravel the mystery behind an assault, a poisoning, a deadly snake, eerie recreations of the original Holmes stories, an attempted murder, blackmail, clandestine surveillance, and a school-shuttering explosion. This doesn’t even count the roller coaster ride occurring in the last few chapters of the book!
Brittany Cavallaro successfully translates the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for a current audience. Her main characters are interesting, three-dimensional blends of wit, intelligence, generosity, loneliness, adventure, and heart. Her secondary characters are fleshed out as needed for the story, appearing when needed to further the plot then receding into the background until their next task; they aren’t necessarily flat or uninteresting just not as rounded as Holmes and Watson throughout the book. Instead of directly translating Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories point by point into Sherringford, Cavallaro blends elements from several of them to create her mystery. Some elements are more obvious—an exasperated-yet-grudgingly-respectful detective, Mycroft Holmes becomes Charlotte’s brother Milo, Jamie’s solicitous dorm mother, a murder weapon purposefully copied from The Blue Carbuncle (among others). Charlotte displays the distinctive personality traits of the original Holmes, including an opiate habit which sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book—Jamie nursing Charlotte through an overdose attempt and its aftermath.
A Study in Charlotte is an entertaining romp of adventure and mystery (with a dash of romance) that incorporates realistic situations and a serious topic or two along the way. It’s a fun read, well-suited to high schoolers and teen lit. lovers looking for a quick book. Due to some mature language and topics, it may not be to everyone’s taste. You can find this book (and a variety of others) in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library. Hope to see you soon!