”Truly you are brilliant Holmes!” -Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes series
I have always been intrigued about the Sherlock Holmes books. Part of me knew I would enjoy them but did not realise how much I would. I came across A Study in Scarlet on my bookshelf and thought it was about time I tried reading it. I was hooked from the first page. I did not put it down until it was finished. I think I even ignored my housemates for the day. 😛
A Study in Scarlet is the first book in the Sherlock Holmes series. It introduces readers to Dr. Watson, the intrepid chronicler, who is newly returned to London from the Afghanistan War after being shot in the leg. He is in search of a place to stay and through a mutual friend he meets the eccentric, nebulous Sherlock Holmes. Soon they both rent a room at 221B Baker Street. Watson learns who Sherlock really is and that he works as a consulting detective. A mystery case comes up and Sherlock Holmes is on the case with Dr. Watson by his side. A dead man is found in an abandoned house, no mark upon him, and no clues save for the word ‘RACHE’ written with blood on the wall.
Sherlock Holmes is a genius when it comes to clues and mystery, he plays the violin beautifully, but he is completely ignorant of other things- such as the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun. “His Ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.” Dr Watson once remarked. In addition, Sherlock is very cheerful, eccentric , sarcastic, loves to be flattered, and is bluntly honest. You cannot help but fall in love with his character and love him despite his many flaws. Watson’s witty and snarky (sometimes) comments about Sherlock Holmes are hilarious. You cannot help but laugh at his various observations for his fellow flatmate. He even writes a summary list of Sherlock Holmes’s strengths and weaknesses:
“1. Knowledge of Literature: Nil.
2. Knowledge of Philosophy: Nil.
3. Knowledge of Astronomy: Nil.
4. Knowledge of Politics: Feeble.
5. Knowledge of Botany: Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Knowledge of Geology: Practical but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
7. Knowledge of Chemistry: Profound.
8. Knowledge of Anatomy: Accurate but unsystematic.
9. Knowledge of Sensational Literature: Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.”
The mystery itself is great and very well done. Clues were presented at a regular pace and you found yourself turning one page after another until you discovered who the murderer was and how the crime was done. A good crime mystery is that there are a number of suspects, each have their own agenda and you don’t know who the real guilty person is until the very end. You won’t see the ending come, which is why I love this book so much. If you happen to have watched the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch I will say this; the first episode of the first series, A Study in Pink, is quite faithful to this book and maybe you won’t be surprised with who the murderer is but the back stories are slightly changed so it is not as predictable as you might think.
After Sherlock Holmes apprehends the murderer, the entire narrative changes from Watson’s first person account to a third person omniscient. Conan Doyle does this in order to tell us the history of the murderer, his motives and his reasons. I have to say that I did not expect this and I did not know what to make of it, but I did enjoy this change of narration. I don’t think I have come across this in a novel (as far as I remember). I have read that some readers did not like this change and were struggling to get through the book as they missed Dr. Watson’s witty comments. However, I came to enjoy it and as wrong as this sounds I even felt sorry for the murderer. You get to hear both sides of the story as well as the murderer’s reasons for committing the crime. I liked that you got to read [in this book] about different cultures, different traditions in a different country in a completely different time; in this particular case it was about early Mormon settlements near Salt Lake City in 1847. There are some who believe that Conan Doyle was wrong to write this section of the books as he pictures Mormons in a very negative light. I will agree on that argument, when reading about the Mormons I did think that Arthur Conan Doyle was being harsh and maybe he had something against them? But then again this story was written and published in 1887. I did read somewhere that Doyle did state ” All I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that”. Later on, his daughter added “You know, father would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons.” So whichever the case might be I am just going to focus on the fiction itself and not on the historical accuracy [which is surprising considering I am a Ancient Historian graduate and History fanatic!]
Overall, It is an incredible and good solid story with witty dialogue and fascinating character development. Arthur Conan Doyle offers a story full of action, intrigue, and eerie suspense for any mystery-lover. Even Holmes’ arrogance and egotism is amusing and entertaining. A Study in Scarlet introduces us to Doyle’s most enduring character figure and one of the most iconic, strongest pairings in all literature. I thoroughly enjoyed A Study in Scarlet and I cannot wait until the next book in the series.
“To a great mind, nothing is little.”