My Favorite Bit: Claire O’Dell talks about A STUDY IN HONOR
Claire O’Dell is joining us today to talk about her novel A Study In Honor. Here’s the publisher’s description:
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.
What’s Claire’s favorite bit?
When I was nine years old, my Aunt Marianne gave me a collection of stories about Sherlock Holmes. (Please note, my Aunt Marianne was an English teacher and had served in the Women’s Marine Corps during WWII. She was mighty. I miss her very much.)
It goes without saying that I read the book, as I read all the other books she gave me. And as many others have done, I imprinted on the mythos of the brilliant detective and his more ordinary friend. Fast forward to years later, when I decided to write a story about Watson and Holmes.
My Holmes is Sara Holmes, an independent agent for the FBI. My Watson is Dr. Janet Watson, a newly discharged army surgeon, wounded in America’s New Civil War. Their lives are nothing like two men in the Victorian Age, but I knew that a story about Watson and Holmes had to include that iconic scene when they first meet.
Instead of a chemistry lab, Janet meets Sara in the National Gallery of Art, in front of Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper:
I was no Christian, not these days. But, oh, those luminous colors. The images upon images. The small trickeries my teachers had pointed out that added layers of story to the most obvious and outermost one. It almost didn’t matter that the Son of Man, a child of Israel and the King of the Jews, was portrayed as a pale-skinned man with yellow hair.
Fuck it, I’m lying. It did matter, the same way it rankled when people–mostly white people–stared when I said I was a doctor, a surgeon, and a veteran of the wars. But I could still look beyond the unthinking bigotry of this particular artist, and the assumptions of his age, to the moment he portrayed, when Christ drank the wine and spoke of his body and his blood.
Then she catches sight of Sara herself:
She was tall and lean. Her complexion was the darkest brown I had ever seen, the angles of her face were sharp enough to cut, and she wore her hair in locs, arranged in a careless, complicated fashion wound around her head, then plaited and pinned, so they fell in a thick cascade down her back. The cant of her cheekbones, the almost imperceptible folds next to her eyes, spoke of East Asia, or certain nations in Africa. Of a world outside my own.
Janet’s friend makes the introductions:
We closed the distance between us, then both of us hesitated. I sensed a Rubicon before me, an array of choices wise or foolish. Gaius Julius Caesar had made his own choice in that matter and died. Or perhaps I was being fanciful.
Then Holmes reached out to me with a hand covered in lace. “You’ve come from the war in Oklahoma,” she said and clasped my hand in hers.
Claire O’Dell grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the years of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. She attended high school just a few miles from the house where Mary Surratt once lived and where John Wilkes Booth conspired for Lincoln to die. All this might explain why she spent so much time in the history and political science departments at college. Claire currently lives in Manchester, CT with her family and two idiosyncratic cats.