Quick Review (read on for full review)
Engaging and entertaining, a short, fast-paced read with a great atmosphere and intriguing mystery. Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy all the Sherlock Holmes-inspired retellings, adaptations and dramatisations. This is where it all began… 5/5
Summary (from Goodreads)
When Dr John Watson takes rooms in Baker Street with amateur detective Sherlock Holmes, he has no idea that he is about to enter a shadowy world of criminality and violence. Accompanying Holmes to an ill-omened house in south London, Watson is startled to find a dead man whose face is contorted in a rictus of horror. There is no mark of violence on the body yet a single word is written on the wall in blood. Dr Watson is as baffled as the police, but Holmes’s brilliant analytical skills soon uncover a trail of murder, revenge and lost love . . .
‘…a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line, and who, with such instructors may hope in time to attain to some degree of their skill.’
(From A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 135)
With A Study In Scarlet being the first of Conan Doyle’s books to feature his iconic detective, we get to witness the meeting of two of the greatest characters in detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and learn how the latter becomes the chronicler of the cases we subsequently get to read about. It is the perfect first book in a series, laying firm foundations for what is to come, but works equally well if read out of sequence.
I enjoyed how this story was set out, in two parts, the first being the case and the second giving a clear account of the motive behind the crime, though I can easily imagine not everyone will like this. The narrative reads so well and flows so easily, given it was first published in 1887, and the pace was spot on. It’s a short novel (my copy was around 135 pages), and thanks to the author’s writing style, is quick and easy to read.
Not only are we treated to a feast of storytelling but Conan Doyle’s humour also shines through in places (see favourite quote above). And, he writes engagingly and entertainingly, both in terms of detective fiction and historical fiction, as we roam Victorian London and then are transported back in time to Utah of the mid-nineteenth century.
The story moves from factual and technical as we see how both Sherlock and the police process the clues the investigation turns up – and arrive at very different answers – to one of high emotion as we look beyond the crime to the events that prompted it. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the characters in the second part of the novel; indeed that, I assume, is the intention, given the portrayal of Mormonism.
The cast of characters is, of course, fantastic. The interaction between Holmes and Watson is often amusing as Holmes is always over-confident in his reasoning (though is not always right), while Watson is not a yes man. His role is not to ensure Sherlock Holmes looks as clever as he undoubtedly is, but brings with him his own intelligence and knowledge, which adds to the whole. One of the best parts of the story was when Watson lists what he perceives Holmes is good at, and not so good at. And then there is Lestrade, Gregson, Jefferson Hope and perhaps one of my favourites from this instalment story, Lucy Ferrier. It certainly is a wonderful, rich cast.
Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy all the Sherlock Holmes-inspired retellings, adaptations and dramatisations. This is where it all began…