As I’ve mentioned before, stories of modern-day Sherlock Holmes were a thing long before Sherlock and Elementary. By making Charlotte Holmes a descendant rather than simply a modern-day version though, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro is able to put a fresh spin on the concept.
Not a unique spin. The 1990s’ Adventures of Shirley Holmes gave us another female descendant and the 1980s’ Sherlock Jones and Proctor Watson gave us a miniature Holmes-clone in the present. Nonetheless, Cavallaro gives us something Sherlock or Elementary can’t, a world where the canon still exists. In the worlds of those series, there was no Arthur Conan Doyle writing stories of the Great Detective, nor a Dr. Watson writing first-hand accounts. Charlotte’s universe retains the original Holmes canon, the Basil Rathbone films, the works (maybe not the current shows, I guess).
The narrator is James Watson, a teenage descendant of John. He’s been sent to a stateside private school on a rugby scholarship and hates it, but he’s intrigued that Charlotte Holmes is also a student there. Not that every Watson and Holmes hangs out with each other, but the legend does give Jamie a fantasy that if they met, maybe they’d be the newest team.
Even before that point, Jamie defends Charlotte’s honor when a dickhead fellow student claims to have slept with her; Jamie later learns the guy raped Charlotte while she was strung out on oxycodone. When the guy turns up dead, both Charlotte and Jamie become prime suspects. The real killer taunts them by patterning his murders after Watson’s stories, for example a plastic blue diamond stuffed down someone’s throat to choke them (based on The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle). Trying to clear themselves, Holmes and Watson become the team they were obviously destined to be.
I really enjoyed this Y/A but I did have a couple of problems with it.
Charlotte’s a brilliant detective because her parents trained her from birth, to be the same kind of observing and deducing machine as Sherlock. All the kids in the family go through this. But why? Do they figure, like Doc Savage’s father, the world needs heroes? Is it just a family tradition? Some explanation would have been nice.
Second, it turns out Charlotte’s been less than ethical in her past. Her tutor in her early teens was a Moriarty, one of the good ones, and she developed an insane crush on him. When he didn’t reciprocate (he was an adult) she manipulated him into scoring her some drugs, then got him busted for it. That feels less like an anti-hero and more like the “high functioning sociopath” Cumberpatch’s Holmes always claimed to be.
Third, Charlotte has serious drug issues. Holmes was primarily a recreational user relying on cocaine when he couldn’t get stimulation from life; Charlotte’s a hard-core addict (you can primarily blame Nicholas Meyer’s Seven-Percent Solution for elevating Holmes’ drug use into a defining part of his character). As one Goodreads review pointed out, nobody seems inclined to provide the teenage addict with any sort of support or treatment. It’s just accepted that a Holmes does this crap and that nobody’s going to make Charlotte stop if she doesn’t want to. Since Cavallaro made the point of front-and-centering this stuff, I think it could have been handled better.
And I definitely could have done without working rape into her backstory.
Despite the flaws I look forward to reading the sequels eventually.
#SFWApro. Cover art by Dan Funderburgh, all rights remain with current holder.