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Meet a new version of Holmes and Watson in YA novel The Last of August

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Harper Collins

The game is afoot, but the shoes are now on different feet in Brittany Cavallaro’s The Last of August.

The second novel in the Charlotte Holmes series—and one of EW’s most anticipated YA books this year—picks up soon after A Study in Charlotte and sees the teenage great-great-great granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes once again team up with Watson’s direct descendant, Jamie. Only this time the duo are spending their winter break in England when mystery strikes. Charlotte’s Uncle Leander goes missing whilst working on an assignment involving a German art forgery ring, prompting both teens to hop on the case, which will take them across Europe, as they uncover some truths about their own families… and the Moriartys.

“Leander is very much my homage to the original Sherlock Holmes,” says Cavallaro of introducing readers to Charlotte’s favorite uncle. “If there is a real Holmes and Watson in this story, I like to think that it’s Uncle Leander and Jamie’s dad. Those are two characters I based really closely off of Holmes and Watson, whereas Charlotte and Jamie are my own spin on them.”

With Charlotte and Jamie once again on the trail of another mystery, EW spoke to Cavallaro about writing her own versions of Holmes and Watson.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you decide to focus on Holmes and Watson’s descendants instead of writing a contemporary version of Holmes and Watson?
BRITTANY CAVALLARO: One of the things I was really interested in playing with was the idea of inheritance of expectations. When you’re a teenager, you think a lot about your family and what they expect from your and what you want for yourself. Charlotte and Jaime are dealing with that in really different ways. Jaime really wants to feel that tie to history and to his great-great-great grandfather, while at the same time, having a fraught relationship with his own dad. Charlotte, especially in the second book, we get to see a little more of her own struggles to figure out who she is with all of the demands and expectations on her. I really wanted to [explore] something that teenagers experience, but in these novels, I think it’s in a heightened reality for those situations.

One of the interesting things about these characters is how excited Jamie is to be the Watson in this relationship right from the beginning. Did you play with the idea of him possibly being reluctant towards that role?
Some of my own excitement maybe spilled over when I first started writing A Study in Charlotte. But I also loved the idea of having a boy narrator who was really excited to be there by the side of the girl genius and not be the one running the show. I really wanted Jamie to be 100 percent into the idea of being the biographer or the chronicler, the person helping. That was important to me because we so often see girls in that position and I was interested to write a boy narrator who was kind of willing to be there.

In a lot of incarnations of Holmes, he doesn’t often get anything wrong. But Charlotte is fallible as a detective. How did you craft that aspect of her?
This is a really good question. She and Jamie are both still learning what they want to be. In a lot of ways, Charlotte is a detective, but she actually draws more in her methods from spy fiction than the original Sherlock Holmes ever did. He uses a lot of disguises, but especially in the second book, Charlotte is doing a lot of pretending to be other people, constantly, in order to get the information or the results that she needs. As much as she’s been trained to be a detective, she’s making up her own playbook as she goes along. I wanted her to be complicated and flawed and to have a good reason, at least in her own head, as to why she was doing what she was doing. When reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so much of the fun is that Holmes seems untouchable. Arthur Conan Doyle was writing his stories for The Strand magazine and every time one would come out the reset button would be hit on Holmes and Watson’s relationship [because] they were all standalone stories. [But] I wanted an element of character development throughout these novels where they make bad decisions and see the consequences of that. I wanted the books to feel like one long story.

In A Study in Charlotte you deal with sexual assault on a boarding school campus, especially Charlotte’s own assault. What made you decide to explore that in regards to her character?
I teach high school students in the summer, and [have taught] college students in the past. Something that came up in my creative writing workshops is a lot of my students were writing stories about sexual violence and poems about sexual assault. This was something they wanted to explore, and were angry and hurt about. So it was really important to me to write a novel that was partially about a girl dealing with the trauma from her sexual assault, but that it wasn’t the totality of her story. This idea kept coming up with my students in discussion, that once something like that happens to you you’re not allowed to have other interests, or hobbies, or other obsessions; that it 100 percent consumes your narrative.

In A Study in Charlotte, sexual assault is a big part of what Charlotte’s dealing with, but we only see her from Jamie’s perspective really. But as smart as Jamie is, he can’t really see inside of her head, and so he’s seeing her dealing with it in some ways, but it’s something that’s not addressed. In the second book we get to see a little bit more inside of her head, and in the third book even more so. It was something that I wanted to deal with kind of slowly, and show how the people around us might be watching us, might be really close to us and love us, but they can’t see completely how we’re dealing with something like that.

It’s no secret that people want other versions of Holmes and Watson to get together. How did you decide to explore a romance between Charlotte and Jamie?
First of all, I love any and all queer readings of Holmes and Watson and always have. When I started writing Charlotte and Jamie, I was determined to not have it be a romantic relationship. [But] you create characters, or in my case steal characters and put your spin on them, and you follow them and see what they want to do. For Jamie and Charlotte it wasn’t my intention and then when I got to the point in the novel where I needed to make a decision about it, I decided to follow what they wanted to do, which sounds like a cop out, but my intention at the beginning was for it to be platonic.

The Last of August is currently available for purchase.

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