Goodreads: A Study in Charlotte
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
Jamie Watson is the descendant of the Dr. Watson, the one who chronicled Sherlock Holmes’ amazing powers of deduction. Now he’s being enrolled in a boarding school in Connecticut, where Charlotte Holmes, descendant of Sherlock, also happens to go. Watson dreams of becoming friends and going on adventures. What he does not expect is that he and Holmes will be framed for murder. Can they crack the case before it’s too late?
Content advisory: Sexual assault, substance abuse, murder and violence
I have been a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes for many years, so a YA mystery series based around his descendant Charlotte and her ally Jamie Watson seemed like it could be a dream come true. However, I regrettably discovered from the first page that A Study in Charlotte was not going to make my list of favorite mystery stories. The book is narrated by an unlikable protagonist (Jamie) with a wooden prose style and it tends to focus, at least initially, more on Jamie’s obsession with Charlotte than it does on the crime. Midway through, the plot picks up, but it relies on heavily on Charlotte missing obvious clues, which seems an odd way to pay homage to Sherlock. In the end, I think A Study in Charlotte banks on readers’ love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories to make them appreciate it; general mystery readers will probably be less forgiving of the book’s flaws.
The prose style was one of the first indicators that I was not going to be amazed by A Study in Charlotte. While not excruciating, it does feel somewhat lifeless, which in turn makes Watson and Holmes feels a little lifeless, too. It does not help that the plot moves a little too quickly to remedy this problem. Jamie arrives at a new school, is introduced to Charlotte who tells him off, discovers a dead body, and is now Charlotte’s new best friend as they go off to solve the mystery together. Readers get little sense of who the characters are from narration or plot–it seems like stuff just happens all at once in a bid to keep readers’ interest without boring them with stuff like character development or background history.
Despite the quick set-up, however, the story gets dragged down again almost immediately, largely by Jamie’s terribly dull storytelling. He spends quite a bit of time trying to describe Charlotte, with whom he is obsessed in what can come across as a little creepy. I think maybe the author was trying to indicate that Watson is crushing on Holmes, but his intensity makes him feel close to some sort of emotional stalker. He is not charming. He is not cute. He feels like a hero who is actually very much at odds with the #MeToo movement, even if he does not mean to be.
The book’s handling of sensitive matters, however, leaves much to be desired, so it is not wholly surprising that Watson comes off as a bit of an unintentional creep. [Major spoilers ahead.] Substance abuse is a part of the plot as a reference to Sherlock Holmes’ addiction. But it never feels like the book seriously engages with the complexities of an addicted teenager–other characters just accept that the Holmes family all need “stimulation” and Charlotte’s reliance on drugs ends up being written like it’s just another part of her hard-shelled quirky persona, another riddle Jamie needs to solve. Additionally, a rape occurs, but seemingly mostly so readers can understand the deep villainy of the perpetrator. Serious issues occur, but they do not feel meaningful.
The plot finally begins to get interesting sometime after the halfway point of the book. However, while the original Holmes stories created suspense by keeping Watson in the dark and making Sherlock a genius who simply keeps his cards close, A Study in Charlotte makes drama by having Charlotte find clues, but fail to put them together. Arguably, this is realistic seeing as she is a teenager just getting started in the business (aside from her repeatedly mentioned role as advisor to Scotland Yard). However, it ends up feeling kind of cheap. I would love to see a Holmes putting the case together but still being outwitted–that would be great writing.
A Study in Charlotte is not a completely terrible book. However, it is not so well-written that I have any keen interest in reading the sequel. If anything, I think I now want to revisit some of the original Holmes stories. They will undoubtedly be better than anything the sequel can offer.