In Review: A Study In Honor

The characters outshine the mystery, but leave the reader wanting further exploits.

A Study In Honor by Claire O’Dell 

Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018. Paperback of 296 pages at $15.00. Digital book available at $9.99.

The cover: A mob of people are making their way on their day. The leads of this novel stand in the center of this group. Dr. Janet Watson is in the left center, looking to to her right as if searching for someone. She’s recognizable because she has a metallic right hand. To her left is Sara Holmes, who looks more calmly at the throng that’s moving about. The cover is a little difficult to make out as the colors have the characters blending into one another, though it helps to create a mob. The illustration for this cover was by Chris McGrath and its design by Richard L. Aquan. I must add that the photo that’s accompanying this review makes the cover look very pale. The colors are much better on the actual book, as this is a photograph I took of the copy I reviewed.  Overall grade: B

The premise: From the back cover, “Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While she was treating the 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 semifunctional 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, jobless, and still heartbroken over a bad breakup with her girlfriend, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets 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.” This is a lot of information and I’m glad I didn’t read this until after I had read the book since it gives too much information about the mystery. I like what’s given about the leads, but I wish the last two sentences hadn’t been included. Overall grade: B

The characters: The lead character is Dr. Janet Watson. She is a realistic character who is trying to readjust to civilian life after having her military career cut short by losing her right arm in the war. Her fears are believable and had me very concerned for her. The frustration she encounters in working through the VA comes across as something other veterans deal with, and it was painful. Her relationship with Holmes is interesting, because her roommate is an enigma for most of the novel. Whom Holmes works for is teased, as are the previous cases she’s been involved with. If one is familiar with the iconic detective, Sara Holmes’s behavior won’t be too surprising, and that’s a problem with the book, because I expect the pair to work together and become friends. I also expected Holmes to come off as an eccentric to Watson and that’s what happens. Half of the book builds these characters before the mystery is introduced, but if the reader is remotely familiar with the characters, this is going to be a little slow going. That said, I did appreciate how much Holmes cared for Watson, more so than I can recall the original characters caring for one another at the outset of their adventures. This did make the detective more endearing, with the ending only increasing my love of this character. So to summarize, the characters do reflect the source material, almost to a flaw, but they do move beyond it by the end. There are other characters who enter the story, but to discuss them would lessen the mystery. Overall grade: B 

The settings: This book is set in the near future and America is enduring a Second Civil War, with the South rising again. The war is addressed in flashbacks, but not visited in the present. I liked having this war always in the background and appearing to remind the reader that this country is at war with itself. The book is set primarily in Washington, D.C. The city seems incredibly similar to that of the current location: overcrowded and expensive. Author O’Dell rightly avoids all political locations and keeps the book in reality by visiting apartments, businesses, and veteran facilities. With the exception of believable advances in technology — nothing is near Star Trek levels, this book could be set in the present. The apartment which the characters share is described, though Watson’s room receives the lion’s share because she stays in her room often and doesn’t want to intrude into Holmes’s life. This keep the detective mysterious. When businesses and hospitals are visited they are described well. I believed in this world. Overall grade: A

The action: There are moments of physical conflict, but they do not constitute the tension of the novel, which would be when the leads begin to investigate the mystery. The dialogue becomes incredibly important during interviews and character reveals paint a picture of dishonor. These moments don’t occur until halfway through the book when the mystery is finally stated. Overall grade: B

The conclusion: Having read many science fiction and mystery novels for decades, the answer to the mystery did not come as a surprise and that hurt the conclusion. However, the mystery isn’t really the pull for this book, it’s Watson and Holmes’s relationship, and that conclusion is outstanding, leaving me wanting more of this pair. Overall grade: B

The final line: The characters outshine the mystery, but leave the reader wanting further exploits. Janet Watson is a superb character and Sara Holmes is focused and delightfully maddening, like her inspiration. I would welcome more adventures of this pair in a heartbeat. Overall grade: B+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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