Midweek Review: A Study in Scarlet

Each Wednesday, I review my week in reading and look ahead to future reading with a review(s) of (a) book(s) and/or other posts in a feature I call Midweek Review. This week’s first book review was Murder on the Orient Express. Here’s the second:

Title: A Study in Scarlet
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Publication Year: 1934
Pages: 122
Genre: Mystery
Count for Year: 37

How I discovered

Earlier in the year, I came across a mention from Ruth of the blog Bookish Ruth of this year being the year Doyle would have turned 150. She had a challenge to read stories by Doyle as well as stories inspired by Doyle’s characters, especially Sherlock Holmes. About a month ago, I decided to pick up this one, plus The Sign of the Four and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, from the library. Finally yesterday, I read this one and now look forward to the other two in the near future. I also have signed up for Ruth’s challenge, The Baker Street Challenge.

The setup

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet is the first published story involving the legendary Sherlock Holmes, arguably the world’s best-known detective, and the first narrative by Holmes’s Boswell, the unassuming Dr. Watson, a military surgeon lately returned from the Afghan War. Watson needs a flat-mate and a diversion. Holmes needs a foil. And thus a great literary collaboration begins.

Watson and Holmes move to a now-famous address, 221B Baker Street, where Watson is introduced to Holmes’s eccentricities as well as his uncanny ability to deduce information about his fellow beings. Somewhat shaken by Holmes’s egotism, Watson is nonetheless dazzled by his seemingly magical ability to provide detailed information about a man glimpsed once under the streetlamp across the road.

Then murder. Facing a deserted house, a twisted corpse with no wounds, a mysterious phrase drawn in blood on the wall, and the buffoons of Scotland Yard–Lestrade and Gregson–Holmes measures, observes, picks up a pinch of this and a pinch of that, and generally baffles his faithful Watson. Later, Holmes explains: “In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward…. There are few people who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result.” Holmes is in that elite group.

— from Amazon.com Review

I’m a stickler for reading books in a series in order, so when I learned of this challenge months ago, I knew that I would have to begin with A Study in Scarlet. I guess, it’s just something in me that wants to see the development of the character from the beginning (and sometimes until the end). Sometimes, though, from where that character started is a lot different from where he continues his journey and where he finishes. In this case, though, without having read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I am pretty confident in saying that his character remains consistent throughout.

“There are no crimes and no criminals in these days,” he said querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Like Dupin before him and Poirot after him, he is confident to the point of being arrogant about his crime-detecting abilities. Of course, like both Dupin and Poirot, 10 times out of 10, he is right in his assessment of the crime committed and sees who the perpetrator is well before anyone else, including usually the reader.

In this first Sherlock Holmes, Doyle has Holmes catch the murderer within the first part with Watson telling the story and then in a departure from the original story set in England, he has an omniscient narrator tell another back story set in the American West. Later, from what I understand, Doyle wouldn’t work as much backwards, and some have said that it works better that way. However, for me, that doesn’t make this first one any less the classic that it is. In fact, for me, at the end of the first part, I was still intrigued to learn why the crime was committed, that it didn’t matter to me that the murderer was caught.

Of course, like all readers, I wondered just how this second part would connect, especially being set in the American West and the story of Mormons traveling westward to Utah. However, under the deft direction by Doyle, everything slowly and methodically, like Holmes’ manner itself, becomes clear. In the end, everything is brought back into focus by Watson’s narration– and the words of the murderer himself, and in the end, I give this one a 5 out of 5, as it lives up to every bit of the classic that it is, with our first introduction to Holmes and Watson not being a disappointment.

My rating system:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth
owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop


For others reviews of the book:

If you also have reviewed this book and would like a link to be included here, please leave it in the comments or e-mail me at unfinishedperson (at) gmail (dot) com.

5 responses to “Midweek Review: A Study in Scarlet

  1. Pingback: Of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Maitland McDonagh?!? « An unfinished person (in this unfinished universe)

  2. Pingback: Continuing to live the unlived life and getting down to the elementary (TSS) « An unfinished person (in this unfinished universe)

  3. I’m usually a sticker for reading in order but in this case I’m glad I didn’t. I fell in love with Holmes’s short stories, then the novels, then finally read this one. For me, it didn’t compare to the rest but that is ok b/c I think of it as sort of a trip back in time, back to the beginning, when the kinks were still being worked out of the storytelling.

  4. Nice review! Would you believe I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes story? I think I am the only one ever.

    I also like to read series in order. I’m not firm about it, but I definitely prefer it. Even Patterson’s Murder Club series.

  5. Great review! I love the coziness of Sherlock Holmes stories.