Novel: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro | Goodreads
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
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 has made it on practically every to-read list I’ve made this year. Because during my school year at W&L, it lived perpetually on my bedside table. A graphically pleasing cover, an enticing synopsis, an eternal promise to myself to actually get through it. At times, I would pick it up and read a chapter, but I kept losing the threads of it as I became distracted by schoolbooks and the hectic goings-on of my personal life.
So although I’ve started it multiple times, camp was the first opportunity I had to finish it.
There’s a bit of a stigma against books that you can’t read in one sitting — a hesitation. Surely they must be too slow or uninteresting to catch your attention? Although that argument has merit, I do still enjoy books that take me days — or, in this case, a few months — to read although they definitely have a different flavor. There are books I read in three hours and books I read over three months.
When I did finally start this one with a more settled, focused mental state, I finished it in about three segments: an hour after taps, for multiple nights. At some points, during breaks throughout the day that I knew I’d need for other things, I still crept into my bookbag for this one and ignored all responsibility.
Simply, I dig clever books. A lot of my favorite stories involve riddles, or elaborate mysteries, or sudden, straightforward solutions to complex problems. I love the intelligence displayed there by the writer, the understated brilliance.
A Study in Charlotte, much like the series it’s based on, is put together in the same fashion. It’s fun to read because of the events, characters, and allusions; it’s satisfying because of the sheer tightness and wit of the mystery unfolding. I’m disappointed that it took me so long to get around to reading.
Also, how did no reviews I read mention how compelling the writing style is? It’s absorbing. It’s simple. The prose brings distinct ideas together in an appealing, sensory way that complements the plot itself. It’s not in-your-face either, so I hope I’m not painting a picture of some sweeping purple prose that’s the main point of the book. Good writing, in this sense, involved creating scenes that made me forget I was in the middle of a cabin. Rooting for the characters in every sense.
The characters! I’m remarkably impressed with how Charlotte Holmes is put together, and how the concept of Sherlock as an ancestor is woven in — indicating that she’s similar to him, but firmly reminding her that she is not Sherlock nor will she ever be. She escapes through drugs; she’s arrogant. She has done terrible things in order to achieve her ends, but it’s all rooted in a spirit of goodness and morality. I think often about the character concept of who someone wants to be vs. who they can’t help but be, and this book did a fabulous job of playing with that tension.
Jamie Watson, meanwhile, is endearing to say the least. He tries hard, both to keep up with Charlotte and to take care of himself. Although Charlotte Holmes is obviously the cunning, enigmatic figure that defines a lot of the arc, A Study in Charlotte does a lovely job of defining Jamie in other terms. He is his own person, and equally fascinating. His cavalier treatment of girls is laid out in a way that is understandable, and his anger issues are similarly dissected. What’s more, his writing is sweet and perceptive.
I tend to avoid mystery novels, mostly because I dislike when I figure it out too early. Then I’m trudging through the last 1/3 of the novel or so, knowing exactly what’s going to be revealed. I have this nasty habit of looking at every character when they’re introduced and guessing, based on various tropes, who the bad guy’s going to be. And that’s disappointing as a reading experience. (It’s something that’s gotten worse as I’ve continued blogging, stumbling upon more similar storylines and tendencies within fiction.)
Luckily, that’s not the case with this one. I can earnestly say that it took me aback. The deductions that the characters make, the scenarios they find themselves in, all of it. I haven’t been that surprised by smart solutions since the Gallagher Girls series. Or, in middle grade terms, The Journal of Curious Letters or The Mysterious Benedict Society. The witty tone is a weakness of mine.
A Study in Charlotte feels timeless. It contains nods to its literary genealogy, a relaxed tone that amps up quickly when necessary, and twists that caught me by surprise. It’s a gem. I loved the likable — but multifaceted — characters, the sharp plot, the enticing writing. Hoping to read the sequel this summer, hopefully a little more quickly.
If you want just a solid novel that will surely fulfill your summer reading desires in any given category (story, character, or writing-based), I’d highly recommend it.