What if Sherlock Holmes was a real person? And what if he had a great-great-great granddaughter alive today, in the 21st century, who was as equally brilliant and self-destructive and passionate about solving crime as he was?
It would be the best thing ever, maybe.
“There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”
- A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first book in the Charlotte Holmes series. It’s a fresh take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series and varies quite a bit from the infamous duo’s first adventure together in A Study in Scarlet, but it still draws a lot of inspiration from the original series.
A Study in Charlotte is narrated by James Watson, great-great-great grandson of John Watson. Though he gets off to a rocky (and honestly, off-putting) start with Charlotte Holmes, the murder of a student ties their fate together and James and Charlotte quickly fall into the same dynamic as their famous ancestors.
The full synopsis:
The last thing Jamie 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 great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.
I’ll admit I had one reservation about A Study in Charlotte. I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and like the character Sherlock, but I went into it hoping that Charlotte wouldn’t have quite the same destructive tendencies as her forefather. I.e., I don’t really want to read about a drug-addicted teenager when I know the book isn’t going to be an insightful meditation on drug abuse. Adult Holmes? Sure, whatever. But teenager Holmes? I just… don’t. Not if the author wasn't going to handle it well.
Seeing as Charlotte and James mirror Sherlock and John quite closely, it’s not a huge surprise that Charlotte, yes, has a drug addiction. And I while I don’t think Cavallaro handled it horribly, I wouldn’t say she handled it well, either; she treats it a little more seriously than Doyle did, but that’s not setting the bar particularly high. For me, the biggest reason this mattered was that Charlotte is a teenager, and I think if you’re going to write about a drug-addicted teenager in the 21st century, even if it’s a female Sherlock Holmes, you should handle the subject with a bit more tact.
There are a lot fantastical elements to the story. Fantastical not in literal fantasy sense, but in the this relationship is like, too weirdly unrealistic for me. I didn’t love how obsessed James was with Charlotte—it was definitely creepy—but I understood that Cavallaro did her best to reflect most of the original relationships as accurately as possible in this new interpretation. So if you’re a big fan of the original series by Conan Doyle, you’ll likely be a bit more understanding when our dutiful narrator seems unhealthily obsessed with Charlotte.
(Or not. I think you could argue it either way, but I tried to take a positive approach to this series!)
All that aside, the actual mystery was a lot of fun to experience—even if I rolled my eyes at a certain villain. They felt like the embodiment of superficial mystery cliché. The kind of villain that has been written a million times before, and never well.
However, this villain only scratches the surface of the bigger issue, and I enjoyed how the book came together in the end to set up the series for a bigger, more interesting conflict.
What’s more, I liked Charlotte Holmes. She was a compelling character and much more likeable than James Watson, and I’d be interested to read about her future exploits, despite the whole drug problem.
I’m certainly not in a rush to read the rest of the Charlotte Holmes series, but I do actually plan on completing it sometime in the future. I may have taken issue with some aspects of the story, but I’m still happy to read about a female Holmes, and A Study in Charlotte was a fun twist on some of my all-time favourite characters. The book also reminded me to read more mystery novels, because it’s an exciting genre and is often more compelling than my brain gives it credit for.
If you’ve read A Study in Charlotte, what did you think? And if you’ve got any mystery novel recommendations, let me know!