Again, the 2020 Retellings Challenge is helping me conquer my insurmountable TBR by pushing me to read books that I would otherwise have neglected for another few years. In this case, we have a Sherlock Holmes “retelling” that follows the descendants of Holmes and Watson in an American high school. While this book was definitely not perfect, it actually worked really well and made me want to continue the series.
A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE
by Brittany Cavallaro
Published: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
Ebook: 341 pages
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
My rating: 6,5/10
Opening line: The first time I met her was at the tail end of one of those endless weekday nights you could only have at a school like Sherringford.
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.
It seems pre-destined for Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes to meet and team up. But at the beginning of his school year, Jamie doesn’t think that’s ever going to happen. Because Charlotte Holmes – as brilliant as she might be – is distant and not at all interested in starting a friendship with him. When Jamie beats up a bully protecting Charlotte, her reaction is not thankful maiden but rather stay-out-of-my-business ice queen. When said bully turns up dead a few days later and both Jamie and Charlotte are the prime suspects, however, Charlotte agrees to team up.
This book was in many ways exactly what I expected and in other ways highly surprising. While it is a murder mystery that needs to be solved by Charlotte (with Jamie’s help), what drew me in more was the characters. Jamie is a nice guy who loves the stories about his great-great-great-grandfather and who may want to follow in his footsteps. Charlotte, however, is cold and severe, and she also has a drug problem. While I have read some Sherlock Holmes books, that came out of nowhere for me and turned the entire book a little darker than I had expected. Charlotte’s history with the now dead bully also deserves trigger warnings!
For a long time, Jamie and Charlotte have very little to go on, so they just investigate along with pretty much no useful clues turning up. This could have been boring but with such an intriguing character to discover, I wasn’t bored for a second. Figuring Charlotte out is what made this book fun, if you can call it that, what with people being murdered and all. As the story is told from Jamie’s perspective – keeping up the tradition of Sherlock Holmes tales – we learn to understand Charlotte better and better. The small ways in which she shows kindness, the little things she does that show Jamie she cares… It was lovely to see their friendship grow. And even though Jamie seemed hell-bent on this turning into a romantic relationship, I was happy with the two of them just being friends.
The murder case our two teenaged heroes are trying to solve felt like background decoration for a long time. But of course, at the end, everything is revealed. I’m not a big reader of crime fiction but I know what I like. And this was not it. I like when authors plant the clues in plain sight, but still hidden well enough for me to overlook them. Then, when the ending arrives, I can slap my head and say OF COURSE, it was there all along! But the solution to this particular case could not have been guessed even by the most experienced reader of murder mysteries. Because it hinges on one particular bit of information that is thrown in very late in the book and felt a bit like narrative handwavium.
When I think back on the book now, I admit I enjoyed it a lot. If not for the plot, then for the fantastic characters and their relationships. And I’m not just talking about Jamie and Charlotte here, but also Charlotte’s relationship with her Mycroft-like brother, Jamie’s relationship to his absentee father, and their friendships with other students. It was all really well done, so I feel quite forgiving that the solution to the mystery came a little out of the blue. This is one of those YA books that actually feels like YA, if you know what I mean. I love YA fiction, but I can’t stand when authors or publishers dumb down a book so it is supposedly easier for the target group to consume. I don’t know if that was the case here but it felt like this could have been a much more mature story if it hadn’t been aimed so obviously at a younger audience. Why the forced potential romance? Why the simple language? Again, I had a lot of fun reading it, but I thought there was some wasted potential here as well.
All of that said, this was entertaining enough for me to continue the series one day. I’m not in a hurry, though. Next time, I’ll make sure not to expect a brainy mystery but rather the story of highly interesting, flawed characters trying to find their place in a world that has such high expectations of them. If you like YA books and Sherlock Holmes then you’ll probably enjoy this. If you like YA books that focus more on characters than plot, then definitely go for it.
MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good