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A Question of Holmes: Charlotte Holmes, Book 4

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
A Question of Holmes: Charlotte Holmes, Book 4 Book Poster Image
Teen sleuths' summer in Oxford makes for satisfying finale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of detail about daily life in Oxford, the theater (especially Shakespeare) and various plays. Literary references from Oscar Wilde to Star Wars.

Positive Messages

Strong, angsty, un-preachy, frequently humorous messages of keeping your integrity, finding your own path, and also conducting your relationships with kindness and empathy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As longtime readers know, Charlotte and Jamie, at 18, have come through a lot -- besides stunningly dysfunctional families and normal teen issues, Charlotte in particular has dealt with rape, drug addiction, and very bad romance. Through it all, the two struggle with doing right by themselves and each other in a world full of everyone else's (frequently toxic) expectations. Some adult characters are kind, helpful, insightful, and wiser than the struggling teens,offering much-needed support. Other characters, teen and adult, are often weak, sometimes vicious, and possibly murderous.

Violence

Assorted scary mishaps in the theater (falling lights, etc.), one fatal, surrounded by stalkerish behavior (orchids left at crime scenes, etc.).  In the past, a teen character has disappeared without a trace, traumatizing her boyfriend and causing lots of suspicion.

Sex

Numerous couples -- gay, straight, bisexual -- including Jamie and Charlotte are romantically involved and/or having sex, which figures in many plot developments but gets no lurid detail. Sexual relationships are such an expected part of the college-kid scenery that when Charlotte is about to get caught snooping in a room she shouldn't be in, she and Jamie strip and pretend to be so carried away with lust that they lost track of their surroundings. Teen pregnancies in the past are part of character development and background, as are messy, often adulterous adult relationships seen through teens' eyes. Adult characters express homophobic views, shocking Charlotte.

Language

Typically for this series, "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and the like are plentiful, usually in the voices of teen characters.

Consumerism

Charlotte pays a lot of attention to things like seasonal fashion because it tells her a lot about the people involved.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Charlotte's working on staying clean and sober after harrowing substance abuses and mishaps in earlier installments; she still smokes cigarettes. The story takes place in Oxford, England, where all the characters are of legal drinking age, and there's a drunken party at which Charlotte and Jamie get a lot of useful information as alcohol loosens lips, then deal with barfing, hungover teens afterward. An important scene takes place in a hotel bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Question of Holmes is the fourth and final installment in Brittany Cavallero's Charlotte Holmes series, featuring the troubled, brilliant, but well-meaning 18-year-old descendants of the original Holmes and Watson. Here, Charlotte and Jamie are finally out of prep school and spending the summer in a pre-college program at Oxford, which is supposed to be an idyllic interlude for two teens in love. But doesn't always turn out that way, as the past disappearance of a student, the murder of a professor, and a lot of orchids take center stage. There are many curse words ("f--k," "s--t," "ass," etc.), and everyone in the story's of legal drinking age in England, so there's lots of drinking, both polite and excessive, the latter resulting in gross hangovers. Characters also smoke cigarettes. Many couples are romantically involved and having sex, but there's not much descriptive detail and lots of inner turmoil about relationships.

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What's the story?

Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, spending the summer in Oxford doing a pre-college Shakespeare program before they head off to university in A QUESTION OF HOLMES. After the harrowing events of the first three Charlotte Holmes books, sounds idyllic, right? Especially since most of their dysfunctional family members are off being dysfunctional and leaving them alone. But no. While they would love to spend the time having fun, working on their relationship, and figuring out the future, they're soon sucked into a mystery involving a vanished student, a bereft (and much-suspected) boyfriend, a lot of exotic orchids... And then a professor is killed.

Is it any good?

This tale of Charlotte and Jamie's summer in Oxford ties up lots of issues left unresolved in Book 3, making it a satisfying, eventful series finale. Less lurid and edgy and more of a romp than previous books as the central characters try to get past their pasts, A Question of Holmes keeps the sarcastic humor and complex characterization readers have come to know and love. Put this one on the great beach-read list.

"Yes, we had taken down a criminal mastermind; yes, I had lost people I loved as we had done do; yes, I did in fact have that wretched middle name, but despite what Cassidy from Watson's French class told the Daily Mail, I had never once bitten off someone's ear because they wouldn't give me a cigarette.

"If the need had been urgent enough, I would have simply taken one."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why spin-offs of the Sherlock Holmes series, like A Question of Holmes, are so popular. What's the appeal? Do you have any favorites? How do you think the Charlotte and Jamie stories compare to others you know?

  • What do you think makes a good mystery? 

  • Have you read other stories set in Oxford? Have you ever been there? What's interesting or surprising about the town, the university, and its people and history?

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