Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: A Study In Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study In Charlotte
(Charlotte Holmes, Book 1)
Brittany Cavallaro
Hardcover, 321 pages
Katherine Tegen Books
March 1, 2016
Mystery, Young Adult Fiction
Source: Barnes & Noble bookstore

Book Synopsis: 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.


Basically, I have just one word for this incredible debut novel: BRILLIANT. Of course, I have many more words of praise for it, but this one word really sums up my most heartfelt reaction to it.

As a longtime Sherlock Holmes fan, I immediately felt attracted to this book. The original Conan Doyle stories are exciting, with very complex crimes (which, of course, makes the stories as fascinating as they are). Holmes is an eccentric detective whose personal flaws are just as interesting as his genius for solving difficult cases, just with the highly observant, deductive power of his mind. And Watson is the perfect, faithful partner, willing to follow Holmes to the bitter end. He is also the excellent chronicler of all the cases he and Holmes work on.

This novel brings back all those things that made Sherlock Holmes such an iconic character -- in the person of his great, great, great granddaughter, Charlotte.

I LOVED that, when creating her own version of the original detective duo, Cavallaro chose to make Sherlock's genius detective descendant Charlotte, instead of James. We've already had enough of young women adoringly admiring confident male heroes. The tables are turned here! We definitely need more daring, logically-inclined female detectives in fiction!

Charlotte Holmes is just as quirky, and just as much of a detective genius, as her formidable ancestor. She even shares his fondness for violin playing, as well as his unfortunate attraction to drugs, although her drug of choice is OxyContin. However, like her ancestor's favorite drug, cocaine, OxyContin is a derivative of opium.

James Watson, the boy who meets and becomes Charlotte's partner, is the original Watson's descendant, too. Like him, James becomes an indispensable ally to his own Holmes, in her quest to solve puzzling crimes. This alliance is made rather complex by the fact that this Holmes is a female. Jamie Watson has feelings for Charlotte, which, toward the end of the novel, he's more and more willing to accept. Charlotte has feelings for him as well, but is much more reticent, in keeping with her temperament, which is a lot like that of her famous ancestor.

Also like his own ancestor, James Watson is the chronicler of his adventures with Charlotte Holmes. His narrative is just as matter of fact, but just as perceptive. Through his eyes, we see just what a great detective Charlotte is. He describes her personality in detail, and admits to being baffled by its eccentricities. Still, he can't help but be fascinated, and enjoys working with her. 

The case here is not only exciting, but also hits too close to home. Holmes and Watson have been framed for murder. The fact that the victim harassed Holmes on several previous occasions, and was confronted by Watson during one of them, makes things look very bad for our two heroes.

Like the original Holmes, Charlotte is on the case immediately. She has been able to arrange to have her own crime lab, where, with Watson's help, she begins to follow clues and come to conclusions. Like Sherlock, she comes up with the craziest notions (but they only appear crazy on the surface), testing them through flawless logic, and then following through on them. She is totally unpredictable, frequently taking her partner by surprise when she suddenly goes off on a dangerous, but effective, course of action.

All this goes down while the pair are students at a private Connecticut boarding school. They have to deal not only with the suspicions of the police, but the taunts and even hatred of their own classmates, while negotiating the challenges of adolescence, as well. 

In the process, Jamie (as he is known to most people, to his great chagrin) reconnects with his estranged father, and discovers that things are not quite as he had thought they were.

The plot is diabolically PERFECT. Cavallaro references famous Sherlock Holmes cases such as "A Study In Scarlet", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", and others. She interweaves clues related to these cases into her own plot in a very skillful manner that is reminiscent of Conan Doyle's own great storytelling. 

The descendants of the famous detective duo are very well-developed characters. They work together beautifully. They brainstorm. They argue. They follow the inexorable, logical train of thought of the Holmesian mind. They are just enchanting!

Here are some samples of typical interchanges:

I stuffed my hands in my pockets to keep myself from fidgeting. "Do you want me to try to lie to you?"

At that, I watched Holmes fight back a laugh. "God, no, that would be pointless. No, I'll make a series of statements and you can tell me which are true. Thumb up for truth, thumb down for a lie."


"Because, somewhere in that brain of yours, you've decided I should know more about you, but you don't want to do it outright. No, it can't be simple, you're Charlotte Holmes. You have to do it sideways, and this is the most sideways approach you could dream up."


"This is completely unfair," I pointed out.

"It is." Holmes smiled to herself. "We can talk more at the poker game tonight."

"No one's going to come. Everyone thinks we're murderers."

"Everyone will come," she said, correctly, "because everyone thinks we're murderers."


I was delighted to once again feel the excitement of the original tales, as the 21st century Holmes and Watson took up the chase, followed all leads, and, most of all, came to incredible deductive conclusions, almost as if by magic, thanks to Charlotte.

All Sherlockian fans will be absolutely fascinated and pleased by Cavallaro's masterful use of the original material created by Conan Doyle. Readers who love the YA genre will be doubly pleased, as the author also seamlessly weaves teen angst into the plot.

I need to do some fangirling of this novel! I need to say how very MUCH I LOVE IT!! I did not want it to end..... I was fascinated, spellbound, addicted, compelled to read, totally and completely immersed in this great story that is such a tribute to the original Holmes and Watson! I have long loved these two, and now I love their descendants just as much!!

If you're a Sherlockian, you really MUST read this novel. You will get your Holmes and Watson fix, no doubt about it!

Of course, I have already pre-ordered the sequel, The Last of August, and hope that Cavallaro will turn this trilogy into a long-lasting series, just as Conan Doyle did with his own immortal characters!          


Brittany Cavallaro is a poet, fiction writer, and old school Sherlockian. She is the author of the Charlotte Holmes novels from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, including A Study In Charlotte and The Last of August (forthcoming in February 2017). She's also the author of the poetry collection Girl-King (University of Akron) and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She earned her BA in literature from Middlebury College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she's a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, cat, and collection of deerstalker caps. 


  1. Hey maria,

    I think that the premise of this book is a really neat idea. But this had handled the wrong way, say it was too silly or immature, it had the potential to be very bad. Based on your commentary it sounds like the author avoided those pitfalls.

    I think that it is also a good thing that Charlotte is quirky and flawed. Of course that makes everything more interesting.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hey, Brian!

      You really should read this book! Even though it's in the YA genre, it is in no way "too silly or immature". Thankfully, the story has been handled very competently indeed!

      Yes, Charlotte is just as flawed as Sherlock Holmes, and in exactly the same ways. Of ocurse, she's a teen, so that, too, is part of it.

      This is definitely a GREAT read! I especially love the way Cavallaro brings up clues from some of Sherlock Holmes's most famous cases. And the mystery involved is very well plotted out.

      In short, I highly recommend this book to you!

      Thanks for the great comment!! Have a WONDERFUL week!! :) :) :)

  2. This sounds AMAZING, it sounds like the author nailed the characters even with the switched genders And throws in references to Sherlock's stories? Awesome!

    1. Hi, Verushka!

      Oh, it DEFINITELY is!!! I LOVE that Cavallaro made Charlotte be the brilliant detective, too, instead of James! And the references to the original stories are very cleverly woven in, as well.

      You need to read this one, Verushka!!! Don't miss it!!

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment!! <3 :)


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