A Study in Charlotte
In which 50% of the review is Sherlock GIFs.
The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John 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 enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.
Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.
As you can see from the description, A Study in Charlotte is a contemporary YA retelling of Sherlock Holmes. I thought this was quite clever, as I (incorrectly) assumed that this was not something that had been done before; it has, and I think at his point I should assume that there is a YA retelling out for every classic story ever written.
So context: in this particular universe, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were real historical figures – but so was Arthur Conan Doyle, and he was Watson’s literary agent. Therefore Holmes and Watson exist, and so does The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
The plot here is very straightforward: the biggest jerk in school is murdered, and found clutching The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are the prime suspects and have to find the real culprit in order to clear their names.
The thing was – it just wasn’t that mysterious. There aren’t a ton of fully-developed supporting characters, so its not too hard to determine who the killer is. There are a few red herrings thrown in, of course, but I still felt unsurprised when the villain was finally revealed. And there’s a giant info-dump when the culprit is confronted where everything is sort of unceremoniously explained in an effort to wrap up loose ends quickly and cleanly.
I think the plot could have been more complex – this is a pretty straightforward murder investigation. For a Sherlock story, I expected a greater deal of complexity rather than a ‘whodunit’ with standard suspects and a relatively simple conclusion. I think I would have felt more engaged if the murder itself had been more exciting and intricate.
There was no moment where I was desperate to find out what happened next. The whole time I was reading, I felt like I could have easily put the book down without a second thought. It was missing the ‘wow’ factor.
I think what really made this book special was the characters – Charlotte and Jamie are both so much fun! They are multi-dimensional and feel like real teenagers, not pint-sized versions of their predecessors. I felt genuine affection for both of them within the first hundred pages.
I didn’t connect with Charlotte at first, but her abrasiveness and aloofness make more sense the more you find out about her. I liked how Cavallaro incorporated substance abuse (a big part of the Sherlockian canon) in a way that was sensitive without being sugarcoated.
Jamie is not the sharpest tool and has some weird, out-of-nowhere Hulk-out anger moments that didn’t make sense to me. But he’s also snarky and endearing and very loyal, and contrasts Charlotte nicely. He was a great POV to experience the story through.
Cavallaro handled their relationship development really well — it was tender and believable. It could have been clunky and forced, which would have been a deal-breaker, but she pulled it off beautifully. It felt real and avoided typical YA tropes of instalove, over-the-top confessions, meet-cutes, etc. Cavallaro gives them the relationship they deserve.
Overall, I had hoped to get a little more out of this book. The idea of a genderbent Sherlock Holmes retelling set in a fancy boarding school had so much potential and this book could have been so much more. The characterization is wonderful, but the plot was lacking and the mystery was just not engaging enough for me.
A Study in Charlotte is the first in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy. Despite my mixed feelings, I will definitely check out the next book in the series – I’m excited to see what Charlotte and Jamie will do next!