De­scen­dants of sleuths

Pre­pare for the ad­ven­tures of Holmes and Watson’s great-great-great-grand­kids!

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­

EVER since Amer­i­can au­thor Brit­tany Caval­laro was lit­tle, she has been a fan of Sher­lock Holmes. Once, when her grand­fa­ther gave her younger brother a book of his sto­ries, she stole it for her­self.

Not quite sure if Sher­lock would ap­prove of that! Re­gard­less, the great de­tec­tive would prob­a­bly be pleased that his sto­ries left such an im­pact on her: so much so that while do­ing her grad­u­ate course­work, Caval­laro de­cided her love for Sher­lock was some­thing she wanted to ex­plore in her writ­ing.

And not just aca­demic writ­ing, mind you. In cre­ative writ­ing as well. And the re­sult of this is the young adult ti­tle A Study Of Char­lotte (2016), Caval­laro’s de­but novel, whose main char­ac­ters are ... nope, not Sher­lock Holmes and Doc­tor John Watson. In­stead, it stars their teenage de­scen­dants, Char­lotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, who live in con­tem­po­rary times.

“We Sher­lock­ians play some­thing we call the Great Game, where Holmes and Watson were real, Watson wrote the sto­ries, and Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle was Watson’s lit­er­ary agent. When I started writ­ing A Study In Char­lotte, I thought it would be so much fun to write some­thing set in that uni­verse, to imag­ine what that might look like in the mod­ern day, on the off chance that Holmes in fact had a child!” Caval­laro, 31, says in an e-mail in­ter­view.

Born in Illi­nois, Caval­laro is a poet and au­thor with a BA in lit­er­a­ture from Mid­dle­bury Col­lege and an MFA in po­etry from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. An avid reader and writer since her youth, the au­thor spent her 20s teach­ing lit­er­a­ture, cre­ative writ­ing, and com­po­si­tion to un­der­grad­u­ates at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin. She is now a PhD can­di­date in English lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee, and is the au­thor of the po­etry col­lec­tion Girl-King (2011).

Caval­laro now lives in the Bay Area of Cal­i­for­nia with her hus­band, a very noisy cat, and a col­lec­tion of deer­stalker hats.

“The fun thing about writ­ing about Sher­lock Holmes is that it be­comes re­ally easy for peo­ple to pick out presents for you in the fu­ture. I had my own small Sher­lock­iana col­lec­tion be­fore I be­gan writ­ing the Char­lotte Holmes nov­els, but since then, fam­ily and friends and read­ers have given me a lot of won­der­ful ad­di­tions to that col­lec­tion. Deer­stalker caps are one of them!” the au­thor says.

The first book in­tro­duces us to Jamie Watson, who ob­tains a rugby scholarship to Sher­ring­ford, a pres­ti­gious board­ing school in Con­necti­cut in the United States. There, he dis­cov­ers that he will be school­mates with Char­lotte, Holmes’s great-great-great-grand­daugh­ter, who has in­her­ited her an­ces­tor’s genius and volatile per­son­al­ity.

At first, the two seem cut out to be ri­vals; how­ever, they end up be­ing drawn to­gether by a se­ries of mur­ders in the school, all seem­ingly in­spired by the fa­mous Sher­lock Holmes. It soon be­comes clear that some­one is fram­ing them – but who? And why? Jamie and Char­lotte are soon wrapped up in a bizarre mys­tery, with the events of the novel even bring­ing in Char­lotte’s enig­matic brother, Milo (guess which clas­sic Sher­lock char­ac­ter he is based on!).

One of the chal­lenges of writ­ing a story like this, Caval­laro says, was mak­ing sure it was faith­ful to the spirit of the orig­i­nal Sher­lock sto­ries while be­ing suf­fi­ciently dif­fer­ent from it to keep things in­ter­est­ing.

“I knew that gen­der-bend­ing my Holmes would make her dif­fer­ent, and in fact, some of the chal­lenge there was in keep­ing some of Sher­lock’s less ap­peal­ing qual­i­ties that were more dif­fi­cult to see play out in a teenage girl’s ac­tions.

“As for Watson, I thought quite a bit about what an in­tel­li­gent, ath­letic Dr Watson would have been like as a teenager – and then I gave him a tem­per, be­cause the voice of the char­ac­ter de­manded it,” Caval­laro says.

The first thing that most read­ers would as­sume upon hear­ing about a story fea­tur­ing Holmes’s great­great-great-grand­daugh­ter and Watson’s great-great-great-grand­son is that the two will fall in love. While this def­i­nitely comes into play, the events of the novel and the two char­ac­ter’s very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties cause the relationship be­tween them to be quite com­pli­cated.

“I wasn’t quite sure where Jamie and Char­lotte were go­ing to end up in re­la­tion to each other when I be­gan writ­ing.

“We’re used to a fairly easy, con­flict-free relationship be­tween Holmes and Watson in Doyle’s sto­ries, and I think a lot of the mod­ern adap­ta­tions have re-imag­ined that,” the au­thor says.

“I think a younger Holmes and Watson, es­pe­cially, would have a relationship that would be more in­tense than their adult it­er­a­tions. That comes with a fair amount of con­flict and high tem­per and bad de­ci­sions.”

Caval­laro’s first novel was fol­lowed by a se­quel, The Last Of Au­gust, ear­lier this year. The story in­tro­duces us to Char­lotte’s beloved un­cle Le­an­der, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a Ger­man art forgery ring; when he mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­pears from the fam­ily estate in Sus­sex, Bri­tain, Char­lotte vows to find him.

Char­lotte and Jamie are soon on the case, and in the course of their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, make a trip to Ber­lin; there, they have to meet Au­gust Mo­ri­arty (that name should sound a few warn­ing bells for Sher­lock fans) whose fam­ily has been rip­ping off fa­mous paint­ings for years. Jamie and Char­lotte soon dis­cover, how­ever, that there is more to this case than just a dis­ap­pear­ance – and what they learn could change their lives for­ever.

Who would play her char­ac­ters in a movie adap­ta­tion of her se­ries? And who’d di­rect?

“I’d leave it to my best friend to di­rect – he’s the Emmy-nom­i­nated film­maker and ac­tor Kit Wil­liamson, who is my real-life boy best friend from board­ing school, and the di­rec­tor of the book trail­ers for the se­ries. I also wrote Milo’s char­ac­ter for him, phys­i­cally. I think he’d do a won­der­ful job,” Caval­laro says.

(Watch the book trailer at­lock. Cau­tion: strong lan­guage.)

“When I was writ­ing the se­ries, I imag­ined a young Eva Green for Char­lotte, Alden Ehren­re­ich for Jamie, and a Princess Bride-era Cary El­wes for Au­gust, though all those ac­tors are too old now for those parts!”

Caval­laro’s tril­ogy will end with The Case For Jamie, due next year. The story, she says, will take place in Sher­ring­ford and New York, and in­volve “black­mail, dis­ap­pear­ances, spy­ing, and our char­ac­ters maybe mak­ing some bet­ter de­ci­sions than they have in the past,” she says.

While the story of Jamie and Char­lotte is sup­posed to end there, Caval­laro says, “I’d love to some­day re­turn to Holmes and Watson – it’d be so much fun to con­tinue writ­ing mys­ter­ies for them to solve!”

But the au­thor has other projects to pur­sue first.

“I have two projects in the works, a con­tem­po­rary novel co-writ­ten with a friend, and a new se­ries that’s a lit­tle bit fan­tasy, a lit­tle bit al­ter­nate Amer­i­can his­tory.”

‘I think a younger Holmes and Watson, es­pe­cially, would have a relationship that would be more in­tense than their adult it­er­a­tions,’ says Caval­laro. — KIT WIL­LIAMSON

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