Book Review: A Study in Honor

Amazon Cover

A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell


Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.



More of a homage than a recreation of Holmes and Watson. Whenever possible Ms. O’Dell ties pieces back to Sir Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – Holmes’ music and causal use of sedatives to control (her) racing mind and others; Watson’s need to write everything out and the Janet Watson arm loss matches up to John Watson shoulder wound; their apartment has the two armchairs and the “B” on the door.

But Ms. O’Dell doesn’t capture Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning from clues presented for near mythical insightful problem-solving. The mystery is unfolded by things happening in reaction to action. A spy-thriller instead of procedural.

The dynamics between Watson and Holmes remain. Holmes needs someone to keep grounded in the world and Watson needs distraction from the horror of war brought back from the front. This author takes Watson’s PTSD further, instead of just hinting at the darkness and nightmare the constant writing and focusing on Holmes provides distraction from, but then this Watson just came back from the front in a dystonian world unlike Victorian England … which, admittedly was fairly dystonian.

Reading this I realize yet again what a total donkey-rear Holmes is. There is a reason why Sir Doyle had Watson be the POV character – s/he is the everyman. Despite being a surgeon and as close to anti-social and god-like arrogance as a human can get because of profession, Watson is the lesser intelligence of the pair. We need Watson to see Holmes. In many ways, Holmes is Watson’s adversary – the true opponent – the foil to strike steel against. They are like two wolves sharing a den. Sherlock may be the Alpha of the pack, but knows one push too far and Watson will turn around and jump for the jugular. And they both love it.

That dynamic makes it to the book. Right now Watson is broken from the war and still trying to find her place in the world – but it’s the first book of the series. I have no doubt she will find her feet and be a surgeon again – and Holmes will remain her best friend, if constant thorn in the side.

A good homage, a fun book. Not much of a mystery, but the spy thriller aspects give a nice tweak.