I am notoriously bad at straight-up book reviews, but I’m going to try my darndest with this one, dear Reader, because it’s so far the best book I’ve read all year.
First of all, you need to know a little secret about the publishing world. Publishers sometimes provide advance copies (read: still need some editing and might differ slightly from the final published version) to reviewers in exchange for generating some buzz about that title. Their hopes are that if you like the book, you’ll write about it or tell your friends, and that will increase sales. And while it’s true that we’re just barely beating the publication date on this one–it’s out in libraries and bookstores everywhere tomorrow–I knew you would appreciate hearing about it before your friends.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is another spin on Sherlock Holmes, but one that is both a unique and fresh turn from all the others in recent memory. This YA book takes place in a world where Holmes had a child, who then went on to start a line of Holmeses that eventually gives birth to our Charlotte. Watson’s great-great-grandson, James (please don’t call him Jamie) follows in his ancestor’s footsteps as the narrator of this story. He’s an aspiring writer who happens to be good enough at rugby to get a scholarship to the Connecticut boarding school where Charlotte Holmes attends.
James has been kept apart from Charlotte his whole life, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming somewhat obsessed with the idea of her. After all, their predecessors were world-famous detectives who were also best friends and flatmates, made household names thanks to a novelist by the name of Arthur Conan Doyle. But their families don’t always see eye-to-eye, so James has been left to his imagination when it comes to Charlotte. All that changes when he starts the new term at Sherringford and immediately comes face-to-face with the girl of legend…who doesn’t really seem to want anything to do with him. In fact, she is livid when he punches a classmate in the guise of defending her honor. She can defend herself, thank you very much. And it turns out punching the guy wasn’t such a smart move, anyway, when he’s found dead the next day and all eyes are on James.
The police are called, and James’s estranged father tries to get himself involved in both the case and James’s life. Neither effort is appreciated. But it’s just the impetus our heroine Charlotte needs to join forces with James and discover who the real killer is.
Charlotte mirrors some of her great-great-grandfather’s mannerisms and habits. She has her own chemistry lab in a storage closet, a condition of her attendance at Sherringford. She is seriously antisocial, only mingling with peers during the weekly underground high-stakes poker games she runs out of her dorm’s basement. She doesn’t appear to process regular emotions the same way most of us do, forcing bystanders to sometimes suspect her of being aloof, snobby, or uncaring.
And just like her predecessor, Charlotte occasionally turns to drugs for the heightened senses that can help her focus, though she’s since traded in the heroin for prescription pain pills. The darker side of our heroine was well-written, portraying an addict who hasn’t quite kicked the habit but does rub her healed track marks reflexively whenever she’s faced with something particularly challenging. There was a lot of effort put into her backstory, showing us how she dealt with working with Scotland Yard from a very young age and how that’s shaped her development.
I won’t give it all away. You’ll have to pick up a copy and read for yourself what I am calling a totally rad retelling of the world’s most favorite detective. It’s a story of secrets, betrayal, and friendship you won’t soon forget.
We’re hoping to start reviewing more books in advance of their publication dates, so stay tuned for more book buzz from your favorite bloggers here on A Reading Life.