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25th May
2009
written by Steph
Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Coming off of Michael Chabon’s underwhelming Sherlock Holmes homage, I had a yen to experience the real deal.  Back during my girlhood, I recall reading my way through an assortment of Sherlock Holmes stories, though for the life of me, the only one I can definitively recall reading is “The Five Orange Pips” (and of course, I have no idea what the story centers around other than the obvious, nor can I recall how it all sorts itself out).  My memory for plot is notoriously poor, so when I found the first of two volumes of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes at McKay’s I decided to pick it up so I could work my way through the Holmes back catalogue.  Having now read the first story (actually a novella) in the collection, I’m really glad I did! A Study in Scarlet was the first work published Conan Doyle, and it is the novel in which the inimitable Sherlock Holmes is first introduced.  The mystery is typical Holmesian fare – a body has been found in an abandoned house, the room splattered with blood, only there are no visible wounds to be found.  Baffled, the London police are getting nowhere so Holmes is turned loose on the case!  The novel is actually divided into two parts: in Part One, we become privy to the crime and follow Holmes (through Watson’s eyes) as he sniffs out his murderer ending with the arrest of the perp; in Part Two, there is a dramatic shift in perspective as we learn more about the murderer’s motivation and the events that lead to him carrying out his dastardly deed, as well as a final section in which Holmes reveals for the somewhat dimwitted Watson how we deduced all the relevant facts. I had such fun reading through the first adventure of Sherlock Holmes!  The mystery itself wasn’t even the best part for me, as there aren’t really any twists – although the action is quickly paced – and the information isn’t laid out so that any reader has a chance of solving it on her own (the deductions made by Holmes rely on a lot of information that simply isn’t made available to us).  In my last review, I did say that I found Chabon’s mystery somewhat anemic (pardon the pun), which mitigated my enjoyment of his novella to some extent.  Here, even though the solution to the murder was essentially inscrutable up until Part Two, and some of the details come from way out in left field, I ultimately felt Conan Doyle put together a rollicking good adventure and a cracking good read. The relationship between Holmes & Watson is established quickly, and the dynamic they develop is really engaging – Watson is really the perfect foil for Holmes, giving the reader a relatable narrator.  The characters are brimming with life and the writing is playful and amusing – several times I would find myself giggling and would have to read large swaths from the book to Tony (in a poncey British accent, of course!).  I was really impressed at how approachable the writing was – A Study in Scarlet was first published in 1887, and the story undeniably feels Victorian, but the writing is easily parsed and digested by a modern reader.  The story is dated but ultimately feels timeless, which I’m sure has much to do with why the stories endure and continue to be read by readers today. Initially, I was surprised by the beginning of Part Two when we find ourselves transported out of 19th century London, the story no longer told by Watson.  At first this new story seems completely unrelated to the action up to that point and felt jarring, but with time I started to appreciate the change in perspective, and felt like it was a pretty interesting tack for Conan Doyle to take.  He deftly paints the backstory of the murderer, providing a rich canvas against which to comprehend his actions.  He gives the reader time to get invested in this story to the point that when I eventually cottoned on to how things must eventually end, I got quite upset because I really cared about the characters and found myself sympathizing with the murderer.  Those four or five chapters added depth to the story and were also really engrossing.  They made me feel that Conan Doyle wasn’t just a great mystery writer, he was a really good storyteller regardless of genre.  I liked that he centered his crime around a universal story with very human, very understandable, motivations.  It’s easy to write off a murder as one of greed or hatred or revenge and have it feel quite hollow, but this went beyond that somehow.  For a diverting read, it felt like it had some substance at its core.  I’m not saying one should write a dissertation on the many layers of analysis regarding the human psyche in Conan Doyle’s fiction (though I’m sure some have), but I felt like it wasn’t just pure fluff.  There’s a spark there that’s hard to capture but you sense it as you read, and in comparison, Chabon’s piece feels are the more listless. Ok, enough of this twaddle (a word I picked up from Watson and am determined to bring back!): A Study in Scarlet is fun and at less than 100 pages, it’s a quick read too.  A great introduction to the franchise, and I look forward to reading the next one (The Sign of Four) in due course.  You should read it, if you haven’t already.  It’s a hoot and is the perfect size for reading poolside or on the beach.  Just flip yourself over between Part One and Two and you’ll have an even tan AND a great time. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

11 Comments

  1. 05/25/2009

    I have both volumes of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I really need to start on it.I love the word “twaddle”! I’m going to help you bring it back.

  2. 05/25/2009

    I have watched all the movie series but, with much shame, I haven’t read any of the books!

  3. 05/25/2009

    I have never read him either (shame on me, I should remedy that).

    P.S. Out of topic: I sent you an email. 😀

  4. 05/25/2009

    @ Vasilly: Please do help me bring back “twaddle” into the common parlance! And I hope you get around to your collection sooner rather than later – they stories are great fun, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!
     
    @ Matt: Ha! I’m slowly developing the same trend but with the Hercule Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie (it’s so hard, because half the fun with mysteries is the plot, so I never know if I should watch the show or read the book… I’ve compromised by watching David Suchet as Poirot in the adaptations of Christie’s short stories, which I know I’ll never read!).
     
    @ Claire: I know mystery isn’t generally your thing, but the language is so playful and fun in these, it would be a shame to miss out!

  5. 05/25/2009

    I love this and all the Holmes stories, your review is tempting me to re-read them soon. Anyone who hasn’t read Conan Doyle yet is missing out!

  6. 05/26/2009

    You know how I feel about Mr. Holmes, so you know how thrilled I am that you read this! I’m glad you’re looking forward to reading the next one, too! Your review has really make me want to read the complete works all over again.

  7. 05/26/2009

    I meant “makes”. I’m going to blame that on my cold, sorry!

  8. 05/26/2009

    @ Sarah: I’m glad I’m no longer missing out on the fun! Plus, I feel like the language is so playful and fun that even if I were the kind of person to remember plots, I’d still enjoy reading through these tales for the banter alone!
     
    @ Chavonne: I did think of you when I started reading this! I’m a long ways away from matching your formidable achievement of reading the entire series through in one go, but I do remember how much you enjoyed doing that. I am going to spread my reading out with other things, but it’s great knowing I have these waiting for me!

  9. 05/27/2009

    I have the complete collection of all the Holmes stories, but I haven’t yet read any of them. I am glad that you enjoyed this story because I had been staying away from them fearing they would be too dry. I may have to read a few over the summer. Great review!

  10. 05/27/2009

    Sherlock Holmes would be a great summer read… really I think he’d probably be great any time of the year! I think I was a bit worried I’d find the writing dry as well, but it’s really quite the opposite. It doesn’t feel dull and dated – it’s got great humor and you can tell Conan Doyle holds adventure stories dear.

  11. 06/03/2009

    Great review; i never read this one.

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