Brittany Cavallaro explores this idea in her debut novel, A Study in Charlotte, set in a private boarding school in Connecticut and featuring the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. James (called Jamie, despite his protestations) Watson has been sent to the American high school on a rugby scholarship, and it just so happens that it’s the same school attended by Charlotte Holmes, a direct descendant of Sherlock. The two resemble their ancestors in personality, and just like Sherlock and John, they strike up a tense sort of friendship. When a student is found murdered and suspicion thrown on the them, they start investigating it on their own in order to clear their names.
Cavallaro has a ton of fun with her source material. The story is narrated by Jamie, who writes poetry and wants to be a writer like John (Arthur Conan Doyle is referred to as John’s literary agent, a fun little detail). Charlotte, like her famous relative, is a drug user and not very good with people, though she is a brilliant detective. The murders and attacks on the students at the school are all copycats of the cases the original Watson wrote about at the turn of the 19th century, which is fun not only for readers familiar with the originals, but will also spur those unfamiliar with them to pick them up. And of course, the Moriarty family makes an appearance as well. No prior knowledge is required as Jamie recaps the essentials needed to understand what’s going on.
Though the central mystery is quite good, with a number of red herrings and a couple of nice sub-mysteries, it’s the relationship between Jamie and Charlotte that provides the real sparkle and makes this a standout read. It’s a rocky relationship throughout, but it’s also deep and caring. At multiple points in the book, Jamie suspects that Charlotte may have actually committed the acts she’s suspected of, but that doesn’t prevent him from caring for her. For her part, Charlotte freely admits she is not a good person, but the fact that she knows this and tries to counteract it is what makes her press on. Cavallaro has done something pretty remarkable: made her Sherlock Holmes descendant different from her forebear in important ways (she’s not quite as antisocial, not quite as callous to Watson, admits to deeper feelings, and so on), but just as interesting.
Of course, this is all told entirely through Jamie’s eyes until the very end, where Charlotte makes a postscript, ragging a bit on Jamie’s sentimentality and correcting a few of what she sees as his errors. These dueling narratives add a bit of unreliability to the story – just how good or bad is Charlotte, really? – which I always enjoy. This unreliability is paralleled in the original Conan Doyle stories as well.
This should appeal to fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which are enjoying a bit of a mini-Renaissance, though they’ve always been popular. Teens on the hunt for a good mystery with interesting sleuths would love this too, even if they have zero knowledge of the source material. This is a better than average mystery and debut: it’s tons of fun with a lot of depth to its plotting as well as its characters. And that title is just perfect. Highly recommended.