The Last of August
by Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegan Books (February 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780062398949
In the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.
Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.
So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.
As noted in the publisher’s summary, this is the second book in the series, the first being A Study in Charlotte. I read the first book in the series shortly after it came out, and loved the worldbuilding of it all. The premise is that Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are the latest Holmes and Watson, descended from the original Holmes and Watson.
That’s right- this is a modern story in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson DID exist. Rather than the headscratching of “how did the modern detective novel come about without the influence of the original canon” or, alternatively, “why is no on remarking on the fact that they have the same names as the fictional detectives and are solving crimes together?” which accompanies most modern adaptations, this takes the logical presumption that The Game is true: they were real people, and they had families. It’s a fantastic premise, and I adored the first book, but there were certainly elements that I wasn’t as fond of, which continue in this book, to my dismay. (Spoilers: there is a poorly handled rape plot line in both books; consider this a warning for those who need it.)
I would strongly recommend that you read the first book before you attempt The Last of August. This book will make very little sense without it, and you will be completely lost. Even though I did read the first book, I regretted not rereading it before diving into this one, as there were moments where I was a bit lost nonetheless.
The second book begins with two family trees, those of Holmes and Moriarty (because if Holmes and Watson were both real people with families, it stands to reason that Moriarty was as well!). I lament the lack of Watson family tree, but the trees of Holmes and Moriarty will delight any reader, with their annotations by Charlotte. I long for the stories of each family member, who seem fascinating and complex all on their own.
Meeting Charlotte’s family is probably my favorite part of this book. Though we met her brother, Milo, in the first book, here we get to meet her mother and father, who are mysterious and odd in their own right. I am especially intrigued by her mother, and I hope we see more of her in the third book. We also finally- finally!- meet her Uncle Leander, the Holmes to Jamie’s father’s Watson. Leander is absolutely charming, a nice contrast to the prickly Charlotte and her distant parents. Leander is an easy character to love, and it is Charlotte’s adoration of her uncle that drives the mystery plot.
The mystery is complex, perhaps too much so. Much of the time I had to simply sit back and let the story go where it wanted to go, without attempting to solve the case along with our young detectives. Charlotte and Jamie go to Berlin in order to save Leander, and in doing so, we meet much of the Moriarty family. I am, happily, just as intrigued by the Moriarty family as I am by the Watson and Holmes families; the parallels between Holmes and Moriarty (the originals) have often been noted, but this novel basks in them, bringing them to the forefront. The plot is more spy thriller than mystery, but it was enjoyable, and very fun to watch both Charlotte and Jamie assume different personas in their attempts to unravel what has happened to Leander.
We also get to meet August Moriarty, a source of Charlotte’s angsty backstory. This is hardly a spoiler, given the title of the book. As this is a YA book, it is unsurprising that a bit of a love triangle is set up between August, Jamie, and Charlotte. Delightfully, August wants no part of this love triangle, a refreshing twist from the usual YA plot. I loved the moments where August and Jamie were able to speak with each alone, without Charlotte creating an emotional distortion field around Jamie’s POV- the pool scene, in particular, is one of my favorite scenes in the entire book.
Though I didn’t like the second book as much as I enjoyed the first, it was still a strong entry into the series. I’m very much looking forward to the third book, and I love the possibilities that are opened by the world the author created.
What About Our Watson?
Jamie Watson is hotheaded, wears his heart on his sleeve, and cares too much about everyone around him. In short, he is what one might expect from a young, teenage Watson. Charlotte owes much of her characterization to the BBC version of Holmes, but I would say Jamie draws from a number of different portrayals of Watson, including Nigel Bruce, H. Marion Crawford, and of course, ACD Watson.
Though he is clearly no deductive genius, Jamie is still an intelligent boy. He goes off on his own at a few points to try and find clues and evidence on the case they’re working on, and is moderately successful (this is no slam on Jamie; the other characters, too, are moderately successful in their individual attempts). He is clearly a bit of a dreamer, having his own ideas on what a partnership between a Holmes and a Watson should look like. He is also the brawns of the two, acting almost as Charlotte’s bodyguard at times, although Charlotte is capable to taking care of herself.
Jamie is, however, still very young, and exhibits the sort of flaws you might expect from a teenage boy. While he clearly cares deeply for Charlotte, much of his adoration comes across as self-centered; it may be hard for some readers to get through, especially given we spend much of this book in his POV. He can also be selfish, and jealous without cause. The relationship between he and Charlotte can be, for an adult reader, somewhat troubling because of some of these aspects of his personality.
I like Jamie quite a bit, and it’s fascinating to see what a very young, modern Watson might look like. A Watson without the various structures in his life to give him discipline and focus, and without time in general to give him experience, is a very unmolded Watson, but we can certainly see in Jamie how one could get from point A to point B. It will be interesting to see how he continues to grow in book three.
You Might Like This Book If You Like:
YA romance; BBC Sherlock; James Bond
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