Book: A Study In Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1)
Author: Brittany Cavallaro
In celebration of the return of Sherlock this January, I decided that January would be a dedicated “Sherlock” month and that the books I would read would be Sherlock retellings. The first of these (and incidentally, the first book I’ve read of my #RockMyTBR list) was A Study In Charlotte. I was really excited to read this because I’d heard really good things and I am a huge fan of BBC Sherlock and whilst I did enjoy it and I think that there is potential for the rest of the trilogy, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be? The characters didn’t feel like they really had their own personalities, it was like they were just copycats of their famous ancestors and it was tad slow paced, which was not helped by the length of the chapters. It wasn’t all bad however, the mystery part of the book was definitely engaging, I couldn’t work out who was trying to frame Charlotte and Jamie at all, and I liked the whole addition of having the crime scenes resemble crimes from the original Sherlock Holmes stories (even if it did mean quite a bit of info-dumping as the author needed to explain the stories!). It was a nice idea for a retelling, just didn’t quite reach it’s potential. I have hope that it may do so in future instalments, even if this one didn’t quite hit the mark. Here’s a short synopsis of the book:
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.
A Study in Charlotte is the first in a trilogy.
The first thing I want to talk about is the characters, as they were probably my biggest bug bear of the book. Charlotte and Jamie seemed like they were exactly the same as their famous ancestors, like just because they were descended from Sherlock and Watson, they couldn’t possibly have their own personalities. Charlotte is basically just a copycat Sherlock, with her skills at deduction, science, playing the violin, her prickly personality and even her drug habit (more on that later) and didn’t seem to have anything to differentiate her from Sherlock. She kind of felt like a manic pixie dream girl for most of the book, which could be the fault of Jamie’s narration because he does kind of treat her like she’s this perfect mythical beast a lot of the time, but either way, whether it was because of Jamie’s narration or just how Cavallaro wrote her, she never felt like a real fleshed out person to me and she didn’t exactly have any redeeming qualities to make you root for her. The thing about Sherlock is that he might be an unbearable ass, but he clearly has a heart beneath that and that makes you root for him. Charlotte just seemed like a bitch for most of the book and whilst I did feel like I was rooting for her more towards the end of the book, I didn’t really like her most of the time. I did like the genderbent Sherlock aspect though. I also really hated that Charlotte’s drug problem was never dealt with. Like oh “she’s bound to have drug problems because Sherlock did and we’re not going to help her”. That really sucked. This was a common theme through the book, the author tried to introduce big issues, but never really dealt with them.
Jamie also felt kind of flat. Once again, I think this was likely because he was so similar to his ancestor, he writes, he has an interest in medicine, he’s smart but his intelligence dwindles in comparison to hers, and he obsesses over Charlotte. His anger issues bothered me, he seemed to blow up very easily and seemed rather possessive, so I wasn’t keen on that. I reckon the book would actually have been more interesting if Charlotte had been the narrator, just because as a character she’s more complex and flawed even if she’s basically a Sherlock clone.
I didn’t love the development of the romantic relationship between Charlotte and Jamie. I mean Jamie was obsessed with Charlotte all the way through, so you could see it coming from him, but Charlotte didn’t really seem to have much interest in him, other than having a “Watson” to her Holmes. I don’t know, it just didn’t seem believable to me. I would have preferred it, if they’d just been friends to be honest because that seemed to work a lot better than their romance.
Also I felt like the boarding school aspects of it were highly unrealistic. I went to a boarding school, granted, I wasn’t a boarder as it was a school that had both day and boarding students and I was a day student, but still, I had friends who were boarders and they weren’t allowed out without signing out/telling boarding staff where they were going during the day, let alone at night and none of them have cars. I hate it when books make it seem like there are no consequences at boarding school, because I know it’s not true.
I did however enjoy the humour, there are some great, quippy one liners that I really enjoyed.
It did seem strange that Watson/Sherlock were real people in this, but Arthur Conan Doyle was also real? Cavallaro said that Doyle was Watson’s agent or something, but it still seemed rather confusing. I also didn’t love how Jamie seemed to bring up his and Charlotte’s famous ancestors all the time, like we get it, you’re related to Holmes and Watson, we haven’t forgotten in the last 5 minutes! Also, for families that haven’t spoken in a while, they seemed to know an awful lot about each other.
I also didn’t love the big “Villain monologue” at the end, it’s such an overdone trope.
Overall it was a clever mystery and I loved all the little Sherlock references, but the overly long chapters combined with the flat characters and narration meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked to. However, I think the author and series has potential and I think I’ll try the second book as despite my bug bears with this one, the fact that I enjoyed the mystery is more important to me than my gripes about the characters (for a Sherlock book anyway) and this was the author’s debut novel, so I’m sure that given time, she will be able to iron out the pacing and character development issues in this book. I look forward to seeing where she goes with the next one.
My rating: 3/5
My next review will be of Every Breath by Ellie Marney (another Sherlock retelling).