Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

A Study in Scarlet
(A Sherlock Holmes novel, Book 1)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Mystery
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In the late 1800's, the war veteran Dr. Watson returns from service in Afghanistan, weak from illness and injury in the field of battle. To stretch his limited pension enough to remain in London, he must find a roommate... but his friends are few and far between in this city. Via an old acquaintance, he meets up with a stranger who faces a similar monetary problem. Sherlock Holmes is the most confounding puzzle of a man Watson has ever encountered. A keen student of criminal sciences, he nevertheless confesses ignorance (or rather apathy) about such simple subjects as basic astronomy and popular literature. Moody, reclusive, with odd acquaintances who call at odd hours, Holmes baffles the doctor more with every passing day, never even confessing how it is he makes his modest living. Soon enough, Watson finds out that Holmes fancies himself a "consulting detective," as he is drawn on the great man's coat-tails into the investigation of a most remarkable murder.

REVIEW: The debut of one of history's most famous characters, and certainly its most famous detective, starts off strong, if often wordy in the way of most 19th-century fiction (at least, in my experience.) Holmes is an enigmatic genius, whose thought processes can only be relayed through the more approachable, more human mind of Dr. Watson, who is less a sidekick than a fawning stenographer to record the man's exploits and praise his analytical brilliance. This sort of lopsided relationship may have been typical for the era, when subservience to ones betters (by rank, prosperity, or intellect) was standard social practice, but grates subtly on modern sensibilities; I fully understand, and personally prefer, the more even relationship between Holmes and Watson in more recent interpretations. The mystery itself is practically resolved in the detective's mind from the moment he walks into the crime scene; the rest of us must wait patiently through a long flashback to the early days of Mormon settlement in Utah before we begin to figure out the characters and the motives behind the murders. I nearly trimmed it a half-star for deliberately drawing things out, and a few leaps of Holmsian logic that seemed just a bit too wide for even his intellect to clear. All in all, given that I've had spotty luck with the classics, I was pleasantly surprised, if not fully enamored, with this story.

1 comment:

  1. My fore impression of classic literature is boring but the time i first read Sherlock Holmes, I got hooked. Might i call myself a Sherlockians now. . .