Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (aka I love me some Sherlock Holmes)
I've always had a thing for Sherlock Holmes. I chalk it up to Basil Rathbone and his dreamy good looks and awesome acting. A Study in Scarlet was my first ever attempt at reading a Sherlock Holmes story, because up until I read it, I'd only seen movies! (the best are with Rathbone, but I was surprised by how much I adored the newish Holmes movie that came out a few years ago with Robert Downy Jr.)
A Study in Scarlet is the first Holmes mystery, and it's actually the story where Holmes and Watson first met. I loved reading about their introduction and their first few weeks as roommates, and about how fascinated Watson was by Holmes' capability of deduction. Holmes is asked by the police to help them solve a murder. The body seems to be unmarked, and is in a vacant building with a word written on a wall in blood. Holmes is happy to help, though he's sure Scotland Yard will take all the credit when he solves the case. Holmes invites Watson to come along, and here we have their case together! After a second body is found, the police are a bit flustered, but Holmes presses on in his search for the murderer.
I loved A Study in Scarlet! The story was great, and while it did have its flaws, it was very entertaining. I was surprised by how similar Holmes and Watson were in this book compared to movies I've seen. It's nice to see that the films portrayed them so accurately. Sherlock Holmes is definitely a brooder. He is always sitting alone, lost in his thoughts. He's also very smart and notices the tiniest of details, which I'm sure came in handy back before forensic science was around to help solve crimes. Watson is shocked when they are first introduced and Holmes knows right away that he fought in Afghanistan. A little later in the book, Holmes explains:
Page 18: "You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan."
"You were told, no doubt."
"Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan..........The train of reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly, in Afghanistan.'"
Part 2 of the story was slow and boring at first. It totally leaves Holmes, Watson, and England, and you are suddenly in Utah. I was confused until I realized that this part was explaining everything that led up to the murders. After the scene was set and things got rolling, that part became really interesting, and I couldn't wait to find out how this all came to be.
As I mentioned above, Sherlock Holmes has a knack for details. It helped him solve these murders when the police detectives were too busy jumping to conclusions. What I also really enjoyed about this is how Holmes, upon making a discovery, would keep it to himself. Sometimes he remarked to the police or to Watson about a small clue he'd found, but he always waited to explain himself. In the end, Holmes new how everything had happened long before the police.
I liked the author's writing style because it went well with Holmes' personality. There were a few factual errors, which were pointed out in footnotes by the editor, but they didn't interfere with the story or its entertainment value. I read parts of the intro, which in my Barnes and Noble Classics edition is by Kyle Freeman. It has a lot of interesting details about people in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's life that he may have based his characters off of. Watson, many believe, is Doyle himself, while Holmes may be a mixture of people, including one of the author's former teachers.
If you love mysteries or are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes movies, I think you'll love this story.
Title: A Study in Scarlet
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Date of Publication: 1887 original, my Barnes and Noble Classics edition is from 2003
Number of Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy