A Sherlock for the smartphone generation

When Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Poetry Brittany Cavallaro (IAA 02-04) began writing “A Study in Charlotte,” she wasn’t certain she could write a full-length novel.

Just a few short years later, her third novel, “The Case for Jamie,” is scheduled to arrive in bookstores on March 6. The book is the third installment in Cavallaro’s bestselling “Charlotte Holmes” series, a modern take on the classic Sherlock Holmes tales.

Cavallaro first discovered Sherlock Holmes as a child, when her uncle gave a collection of Holmes stories to her brother. “I immediately wanted them because they were given to my brother, not to me,” Cavallaro said.

Cavallaro soon fell in love with the stories—a love that continued into her adulthood. “I always loved Holmes, the brilliant detective who didn’t fit in with society. I loved his friendship with Watson, who was his human credential, the reason we know there’s a beating heart underneath the brain,” she said. “As I grew up, I was thrilled that Holmes had a renaissance, with Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock and Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary.”

But despite Holmes’ resurgence, Cavallaro noticed that one adaptation hadn’t been tried. “I looked it up, and I found out that Sherlock was the most adapted character of all time,” she said. “As of 2012, there were 243 different adaptations, but I found that it’s a lot easier to find Holmes fighting dinosaurs than Holmes as a woman.”

Cavallaro decided to fill that void, choosing a female Holmes named Charlotte and a male Watson named Jamie as the main characters for her debut novel. Both characters share lineage with the original protagonists.

“When I was coming up with Charlotte and Jamie, it was important to have them be the descendants of Holmes and Watson,” Cavallaro said. “They face all of the consequences of the upbringing and the inheritance: Jamie is a Holmes fan and knows what’s expected.”

Cavallaro has also cast the characters as teenagers at a private Connecticut boarding school, an homage to her own experiences as a student at Interlochen Arts Academy. “I remember painfully well what it was like to be 16 and the depths of those teenage friendships,” she said. “‘A Study in Charlotte’ was dedicated to my best friend from Interlochen [Kit Williamson (IAA 02-04)], who was just here over Inter*mester teaching a class with me. He’s my partner in crime. I really wanted to write a love letter to all those engrossing, all-encompassing friendships that I had at a place at Interlochen.”

While some Holmes purists might balk at Cavallaro’s adaptation, Cavallaro reminds that Doyle himself encouraged expanding the narrative set forth in his books. “There’s a wonderful story: when they were staging the first theatre production of Sherlock Holmes, the actor William Gillette wrote to Doyle and said, and I paraphrase, ‘I want Holmes to get married. Is that okay?’ Doyle wrote back and said, “You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him.’ That was sort of my tacet permission to do anything that I like with Holmes.”

Cavallaro didn’t set out to write a series when she began to pen “Charlotte.” “I wanted the mystery to wrap up in a satisfying way so the book could stand alone,” she said. “As an author, you never know what opportunities for further books you have until the book goes out.” After publishing “Charlotte” to great acclaim, HarperCollins expanded the stand-alone novel to a trilogy. A fourth book in the series was recently announced.

The third installment in the series, “The Case for Jamie,” does not mirror a classic Holmes tale, but there’s plenty of familiar themes for the seasoned Holmesian. “It was really important in writing the series that Moriarty is lurking in the shadows and isn’t vanquished until the end of the trilogy,” Cavallaro said, referencing Holmes’ iconic nemesis. “A lot of ‘The Case for Jamie’ is about the ramifications of events of the first book, and we’ll also see Charlotte and Jamie facing Moriarty. There’s lots of Holmesian lore and easter eggs.”

The release of “A Case for Jamie” caps a busy year for Cavallaro, in which she moved to Michigan and began her teaching career at Interlochen Arts Academy. Cavallaro is also a Ph.D candidate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “It’s been very busy, but there’s no part that I would want to give up,” she said. “I’m defending dissertation for my Ph.D in April, and I’m excited to wrap up that part of life.”

In addition to her work at Interlochen Arts Academy, Cavallaro also teaches the one-week Novel Writing Institute at Interlochen Arts Camp.

Cavallaro will take a brief break from her teaching duties at Interlochen in mid-March for a weeklong book tour celebrating the release of “The Case for Jamie.” Cavallaro will return to campus mid-tour for a special panel discussion on the young adult genre with fellow authors Emily Henry and Jeff Zentner. The event is open to the public and will take place on March 15 at 7:30 p.m. in The Writing House. Cavallaro will also appear at Brilliant Books in Traverse City on March 17 at 1 p.m.

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