Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

charlotte

Favourite quotes:

“I’m bad with words. Too imprecise. Too many shades of meaning. And people use them to lie. Have you ever heard someone lie to you on the violin? Well. I suppose it can be done, but it would take far more skill”.

“At best, our friendship made me feel as though I was a part of something larger, something grander; that, with her, I’d been given access to a world whose unseen currents ran parallel to ours. But at our friendship’s worst, I wasn’t sure I was her friend at all. Maybe some human echo chamber or a conductor for her brilliant light”.

“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was okay that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart”.

 

Happy Sherlock Season, everybody! Who is excited for episode 2?

I love Sherlock Holmes and I love the many adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories – whether they’re literary, cinematic, or television. I’ve enjoyed Andy Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes stories and was quite keen for more like this, which is what led me to “A Study in Charlotte” that came out last year.

Jamie Watson is a descendant of Dr. John Watson – best friend to the Great Detective. His family is quite keen to preserve the legacy, but nowhere near the level of the Holmes’ family. He only suspects it, but his life and Charlotte Holmes’ were entwined from birth. Like his ancestor, he dreams of solving cases in London with a Holmes. So it comes as a major disappointment when he is awarded a full rugby scholarship to a boarding school in Connecticut. Sherringford – the school – is close to the home of his estranged father and his new family. It is also the new home of none other than Charlotte Holmes – a genius, aloof girl who hosts weekly poker nights and doesn’t seem to have many friends. Could Watson’s dreams actually be coming true and could he actually form a friendship with someone he’s idolised all his life?

However, his efforts prove fruitless. At least until their classmate is murdered. Holmes seems quite keen to solve the murder, but soon, both she and Watson are painted as prime suspects.

As one disaster after another, shakes Sherringford to its core, Holmes’ and Watson’s lives are in more danger than ever. Who is trying to frame them by using the Sherlock Holmes stories for inspiration? Or is it not a frame-up at all and Charlotte Holmes is a murderess? Did she start killing at 14 and was August Moriarty her first victim? Or is he the one behind everything? Watson’s mind is riddled with questions that can make or break his fragile friendship with Charlotte Holmes. Can the two manage to stay alive, stay friends and find the villain in the process? Or is the friendship doomed, just like them?

 

“A Study in Charlotte” is the kind of novel about which one has very mixed feelings. I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I have to say that while the concept of Holmes’ and Watson’s descendants is interesting in theory, I could never get on board with The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes having a child. The Holmes’ dynasty in the novel and their obsession with deduction, as well as the need to ingrain it in every generation, were very strange to read about. What the parents were doing to their children in the Holmes family was abuse, plain and simple. If that happened to every generation, I don’t believe that all the Holmes’ could have possibly been “on the side of the angels” and wanted to assist law enforcement. Abused kids don’t tend to trust the authority, and I really don’t see how a teenage descendant of Sherlock would be keen to assist Scotland Yard. So I really wasn’t too crazy about the idea of almost  every generation of Holmes’ being “the good guys”. I also didn’t like how the Holmes and the Moriarty families seem to have a rivalry that spans centuries and how most Moriartys were evil. That’s simply unrealistic – almost as unrealistic as the idea of Sherlock Holmes reproducing.

Another thing that bothered me was the pacing and the narration. I think that despite being a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, the book would have been much better if it were written in third person, not from Watson’s first-person POV. It seemed to me that the author was struggling to find Watson’s voice for 3/4 of the novel. True, he is an unreliable narrator, and if that was the author’s goal, it was achieved. However, the narration seemed to be all over the place for the majority of the novel. It was quite hard to follow at times who was saying what, and sometimes even what was happening and where. It almost made me not enjoy the book at all, but in the last quarter of “A Study in Charlotte”, the author seemed to have figured out where to take the narration and the events and it flowed really well. It was fast-paced, like the rest of the book, but with little distraction and the scenes were clearly set.

I’d also like to point out that Watson as an unreliable narrator worked really well in some ways, but not so well in others. If the author was trying to make Charlotte seem “perfectly flawed” through Watson’s eyes, then that’s what happened. But I don’t like my characters to be perfect and I especially dislike it when one character is so smart or attractive they make everyone else around them look stupid or inadequate in some other ways. Charlotte is a sixteen-year-old girl – and she is hardly perfect. Yet Watson keeps trying to make the reader believe that she is, and the police and other adults look terrible in comparison. This is another reason why “The Study in Charlotte” would’ve worked much better in third person. Watson is too subjective – and to be honest, his weird attraction to Charlotte was really distracting. The book could’ve done without it and would have flown much better.

The third-person POV would have also made all the Sherlock Holmes references much more fun to read about. The book is riddled with them, which I really liked. I also liked the nods to the original stories and the detailed descriptions of Charlotte’s investigative activities. And I do wish that Watson’s biased narration didn’t distract from the fact that she is still a teenager with issues typical teens face. Despite the negative points I’ve elaborated on in this review, I still thought that “A Study in Charlotte” was an OK book. My rating is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “A Study in Charlotte” if you liked:

“Lock & Mori” by Heather W. Petty

“Young Sherlock Holmes” series by Andy Lane

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Elementary” TV series

 

Have you read “A Study in Charlotte”? What are your favourite Sherlock Holmes adaptations? Tell me in the comments! 🙂

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