A Study in Scarlet

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
★★★★

Years ago I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I think I might have read this, but it's been so long I just wasn’t sure. The cases all sort of jumble together in my head, so it was time to read it again.

This is the very first Sherlock Holmes adventure. Watson, a doctor who served in India and Afghanistan, is in need of a roommate. A mutual friend introduces him to Holmes and soon they are renting a flat on Baker Street and the fun begins. Sherlock is called in to consult on a murder and takes Watson with him. Soon the clues are piling up and Sherlock’s keen eye is catching things that every other detective seems to miss.

The book is written from Watson’s point-of-view and I love the descriptions he gives of Sherlock. He's surprised by how much he knows, but also by how little he knows on certain subjects (like literature and astronomy). Sherlock explains that he can't clutter up his mind with hundreds of details; instead he must fill it only with that which he believes will be useful to him. I also thought it was interesting that even early-on Watson that Sherlock might be addicted to a narcotic (in later books we learn he smokes opium).

Watson also notes that Sherlock's method of deduction reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe's fictional detective, Dupin. To which Sherlock, in his classic condescending style, says he thinks Dupin was a very inferior fellow.


The book takes a really strange turn in the second half. The first half follows Sherlock and Watson as they try to solve the mystery. At the end of part one Sherlock catches the killer, but then part two starts and we are in Utah years earlier. The story introduces brand new characters, including crazy Mormons who kidnap women settlers and force them into marriage. It’s an odd way to plot the story. It all makes sense in the end, but it took me a minute to figure out what was going on.

I would say this isn’t my favorite of the Sherlock books. That’s mainly because of the huge section in Part 2 that he is completely absent from. I still really enjoyed it, but that part just threw me for a loop.

I loved reading this after seeing the BBC version of Sherlock, which begins with the episode "A Study in Pink." The showed stayed remarkably close to the original story (minus the Mormons), mainly changing the time period and a few case details. If you haven’t already watched that series (seen above) you should! It's so good.


p.s. This was my 15th and final book for the Victorian Literature Challenge hosted by Subtle Melodrama. I reached the top level, Desperate Remedies, yay!

Bottom image from here.

9 comments:

Bethany said...

Congratulations on completing the final level! Well done! I hope you really enjoyed the challenge and had some great reads along the way.

Brenna said...

Congrats on finishing the Victorian Literature Challenge! I've yet to read any Arthur Conan Doyle...

Rob said...

I've only read Baskervilles and a few short stories, but I have The Sign of Four sitting on my shelf to be read soon. I've heard a few people call Scarlet their favourite of the novels, so I'm looking forward to eventually reading it!

Becky (Page Turners) said...

Last year one of my gaols was to read all four of the Sherlock Holmes novels, and I enjoyed all 4 very much.

Like you though this wasn't my favourite. I found the leap from Sherlock Holmes to the story in Utah to big and sudden. And I was there for Sherlock. Not for other people.

Yvonne said...

I too have read a lot of Conan Doyle and thought Holmes was an interesting character. I loved the new movie that came out a couple years ago with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and look forward to the new one due out soon.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

"A Study in Pink" is brilliant and does justice to the original (I think Conan Doyle would approve). I felt the same thing you did: the second part could use more Sherlock!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bethany - I read so many great books for the challenge. It was a lot of fun!

Brenna - Try one of his short stories and see what you think.

Rob - I need to read The Sign of Four as well.

Becky - I think that maybe next year I'll finish his other two novels. I think I've read all the short stories.

Yvonne - I liked that movie as well, though I do think Benedict Cumberbatch is closer to Doyle's Sherlock than Robert Downey Jr.

Alex - I can't wait to see more episodes of the BBC Sherlock. It's so well-done!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I'm so glad you liked this! The second part of the book threw me for a loop as well, because I had no idea who the characters were and how they fit in the big picture. Must see an episode of BBC's Sherlock Holmes soon. :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Darlyn - I feel like the second part could have been structured better. There should have been some sort of segway or something.