Review: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – A Study in Scarlet

I had read only one Sherlock Holmes novel – The Hound of the Baskervilles – before trying the BBC series Sherlock. As many others before me, I am completely and utterly in love with this TV show but like any serious reader, I felt the need to finally read more of Doyle’s original stories. And what better way to start than with my huge Complete Works paperback (and a Gutenberg free ebook) of A Study in Scarlet?

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Published: Penguin, 2011 (1887)
ISBN: 0241952891
Pages: 162
Copy: paperback, ebook
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.

A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street. In “A Study in Scarlet” Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities

Dr. John Watson has just returned from his work as a war surgeon in Afghanistan and is looking for somebody to share a flat with him. He is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, the only existing consulting detective in the world – and his theory of deduction. Soon Watson learns that it is more than a theroy as he watches Holmes figure out the details of a murder case. A dead man is found on the floor of an empty apartment, the only (to us ordinary people) clue is the German word RACHE written on the wall in blood.

I was surprised at how readable this book was. Maybe I underestimate my own ability to read English but then I did read my first Sherlock Holmes when I was about 19 years old. Either way, the language has a nice flow to it and I finished this small adventure in about two hours. The unravelling of the case was done quickly, even for Holmes’ standards, but the second half of the book shows us the murderer’s backstory. We turn from dialogue-heavy banter between Holmes and the police force to a tale that makes us look at the murderer in a different way and shows us his true motive.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle managed to pack a fair bit of criticism into his detective story and that also took me by surprise. I will definitely read all the other Sherlock Holmes stories (even though I’m worried I might deduct the outcome from my having seen the TV show) and I’ll probably reread The Hound of Baskervilles as well. Holmes is a likable, if very cocky, hero (don’t tell him I called him that) and while his knowledge in certain fields is almost unbelievable, I will gladly suspend my desbelief for the sake of a good story.

I recommend these books for anyone who – like me, a number of years ago – is daunted by the idea of “reading the classics”. This quick read doesn’t only show the beginnings of Holmes and Watson’s beautiful friendship but it offers a fun detective story and a surprisingly intriguing background to our murderer.

THE GOOD: Easy to read, great characters, a lot of depth that I was surprised to find on so few pages.
THE BAD: The actual detecting could have lasted longer for my taste. I can’t get enough of Sherlock’s wise-cracking.
THE VERDICT: Recommended, but maybe a longer Sherlock tale would be a better starter-drug.

RATING: 6,5/10

SHERLOCK vs. Sherlock Holmes

Having just seen the first episode of the BBC TV show, I can’t help but notice how brilliantly this classic story has been translated to the screen. Its beginning is almost a scene-by-scene adaptation of the original Sherlock’s case into 21st century London, including the war in Afghanistan (makes you wonder, doesn’t it?). Who would have thought that cell phones, the internet, blogs, and automatic guns could work with such a well-known and well-loved tale. I am impressed and a little bit awed. Also, I couldn’t help but picture Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and simply dress them in their appropriate garb (including the hat). My curiosity to discover the other Sherlock stories and compare them to the BBC TV show has risen – and I can’t wait for season 3 of that. I am, so to speak, Sherlocked.

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