Book Review- A Study in Scarlet

Book: A Study in Scarlet

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Format: Paperback, Barnes and Noble Classics, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1

First Published: 1887

Current Publication: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003


Deep in the heart of London, England a man is found dead in an abandoned house. All the doors are locked, and the begrimed window shows no signs of having been touched in years. The only evidence of any other presence is a single gold ring and the word RACHE written on the wall in blood. Thus begins A Study in Scarlet, the very first of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous master of deduction Sherlock Holmes.

I confess, this is the first Sherlock Holmes book I have actually read all the way through. I know enough about the other stories to have a general feel for Doyle’s writing style, so I was quite surprised to find such a different outline. The book itself is divided into three parts in two books: the set up, the completely out-of-left-field, and in my ever so humble opinion almost useless, back-story of the murderer and victims, and then a general rehashing of all the events leading to the conclusion.

As you may already be able to tell, this was not one of my favorite books. To be fair, I loved the first part. Not only does it lend some background and depth to two of the greatest characters ever written, it sets up a plot that keeps the reader guessing. As I read the first part, my mind kept looking for clues, trying to figure out what happened, all the while being distracted by the brilliance of Holmes. It was fantastic! Then came the second part of the book… and I will say it again: this section was useless. Perhaps I would have been more open to it if there had been some sort of warning about going off into a back-story, if, perhaps, one of the main characters had started talking about what had happened. Maybe it would not have been so bad if there had been some sort of date and location written at the very beginning of this section to inform me that I was now reading about an event from the past, in another country, and about completely different characters, instead of letting me figure that out as I read. But I digress. Part two of the book tells of the events leading up to the killers motives, and while I do enjoy a good back-story, this was too much information about characters that would never again appear in the series, built up my hopes only to crush them, and in the end, it actually just made me sympathetic toward the killer. After a seeming eternity as vicious as the arid wasteland that both begins and personifies the second part I finally made it to the third section. This part started off as a nice change back to an almost normal setting. I was once again beginning to enjoy the book, but soon found, to my great disappointment, I was having a hard time concentrating, as the material became quite redundant. While I enjoyed finding out how Sherlock Holmes came to his conclusions and was able to track the killer, I could have lived without the continuous recap of every single detail I had read before.

In the end, I really have no choice but to give my vote by section. I give the first section 4 pages. I meant it when I said I loved this part. Section two I give 2 pages, but ONLY because it does further the story a little. In fact, I encourage you to skim this section. Part three I give 3 pages, especially if you only skim part two. As I said, it is interesting to see how Holmes solved the case, and it does wrap everything up.

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