A Study in Charlotte
Charlotte Holmes Novel #1
Katherine Tegen Books, March 2016
From the publisher—
Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices—and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.
But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes (cue the gasps of horror) even though I’ve read all of the original canon during my reading lifetime. I’m not sure why I’m sort of ambivalent about Sherlock but there it is and my lack of enthusiasm has carried over into all the subsequent work by other writers as well as the movie and tv adaptations (although I have a soft spot for Basil Rathbone’s films and for the first Robert Downey, Jr. movie). Then, I threw caution to the wind and jumped into A Study in Charlotte because I wanted to see how Ms. Cavallaro would handle the concept of a female Sherlock and both Sherlock and Watson being teens.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this and the boarding school setting was just right. I liked Jamie Watson a tad more than Charlotte Holmes but, as a pair, they were effective, amusing and better than average sleuths which is as it should be since this is Holmes and Watson we’re talking about. Charlotte is every bit as annoying, intellectually arrogant and obsessed with scientific endeavors as her great-great-great-grandfather and Jamie’s concern for her reflects nicely on his forebear. Together, they become a formidable team in investigating the death of a classmate when they become prime suspects and they’re not intimidated by the ensuing dastardly things that happen or the appearance of another name from the past, Moriarty.
The only real concern I have with this interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work is Charlotte’s use of drugs. That follows with Sherlock’s use of cocaine, of course, and in itself is not objectionable but I was uneasy with the perception that she can take it or leave it and it doesn’t have much of a deleterious effect on her. I know that’s harking back to the original detective but I could have wished for a bit more cautionary aspect to it because this is a story that will appeal to younger and more impressionable teens.
Brittany Cavallaro‘s debut is intriguing and a lot of fun with a good deal of attention paid to both plot and characterizations. There’s no doubt in my mind that the author has a terrific concept here and has carried it out quite successfully and I’ll definitely be looking for the next book.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.
Summer of the Dead
Bell Elkins Novels #3
Minotaur Books, August 2014
From the publisher—
High summer in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia–but no one’s enjoying the rugged natural landscape. Not while a killer stalks the small town and its hard-luck inhabitants. County prosecutor Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong are stymied by a murderer who seems to come and go like smoke on the mountain. At the same time, Bell must deal with the return from prison of her sister, Shirley–who, like Bell, carries the indelible scars of a savage past.
In Summer of the Dead, the third Julia Keller mystery chronicling the journey of Bell Elkins and her return to her Appalachian hometown, we also meet Lindy Crabtree–a coal miner’s daughter with dark secrets of her own, secrets that threaten to explode into even more violence.
Acker’s Gap is a place of loveliness and brutality, of isolation and fierce attachments–a place where the dead rub shoulders with the living, and demand their due.
I first read Summer of the Dead as a selection for one of the book clubs I’m in and the woman who suggested it spoke of it with such high praise I couldn’t not read it. The book lived up to her comments, I’m happy to say.
West Virginia lends itself, fairly or not, to rather depressing stories what with its coal mining, lack of education in some areas and levels of poverty that would crush many of us not accustomed to what can be a bleak outlook. I hasten to add that all of this truly lovely state is not like this but it’s unfortunately true that there’s some validity in such a perception.
Bell Elkins returned to her hometown, Acker’s Gap, and took up the position of county prosecutor. When an elderly man is killed in his own driveway, she and the sheriff, Nick Fogelsong, are really puzzled about what would have prompted someone to take a sledgehammer to him. At the same time, Bell is coping with her sister, Shirley’s, release from a lengthy incarceration. Shirley is most definitely not in a peaceful frame of mind but the past these sisters share weighs heavily on Bell, causing her to feel unusually obligated to Shirley.
On another front, we meet Lindy Crabtree, a woman whose only relief from her dreary existence is her love of books and science. Her father is, to my mind, one of the most compelling characters in the book; a former coalminer, he represents all the terrible things that can go wrong in such a life and the scene that is riveted in my brain is of him crouching under a table because he needs the enclosed space and the dark and is unable to stand erect because of all the years spent bent over in the mines.
There’s an intelligent plot here and the characters are vivid but it’s the region and the residual effects of coalmining that really stand out. Ms. Keller has gotten my attention and I’ll be seeking out the previous Bell Elkins books.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.