Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Study in Scarlet - My first Sherlock Holmes Novel

I've seen Sherlock Holmes movies (Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce), and of course Sherlock is a cultural icon, but one of the holes in my education is I've never read, until now, anything written by Arthur Conan Doyle.   So I decided to fix that, and I started with "A Study in Scarlet", which I found to be interesting, on a couple of levels.

In part 1 of the novel, we meet the main characters.  Its told in the 1st person from the point of view of Dr. Watson, and this is their first meeting.   The good doctor gave a bit of his personal history, (recovering from wounds received in Afghanistan), and Holmes is introduced.  The plot spirals into a murder mystery, and at the end, Holmes captures the murderer.  This left me scratching my head because the author did not provide any clue whatsoever as to who the murderer was or how Holmes figured it out.

In part 2, something strange happens.  In stead of being told from the point of view of Dr. Watson, it's told in the 3rd person by some narrator off to the side (or perhaps in the sky).  Also, it takes place 30 years earlier, and the location moves from London to the American west.   For a page or two I was lost - then I understood.  Part 2 turned into a history of the murdered men, and of the murderer and his motivations,  and the murderer turned out to be the good guy.  It was a historical novel of sorts, with some historic figures, and was quite critical of Mormon society.   Whether it was valid or not, this part was very well written, & a very good story, I thought.   I suspect the criticisms reflect mainstream 19th century thought - especially about polygamy.  It would be interesting to research that.

Part 3 returns us to the 1st person & Dr. Watson, and most of this section is taken up by the murderer telling his story to the police, Holmes & Dr. Watson.  In other words, this is where the author tied up some (not all by far) of the loose ends.  This is every old western or detective show you've ever seen, where the bad guy sits around and confesses everything, just before the good guy is rescued.  In this case our murderer, who wasn't such a bad guy, was very ill and died within a day or two.

It wasn't hard to read, and the 2nd part of the book was very interesting.  And I'm still not sure what the title - A Study in Scarlet - had to do with anything.  But I miss things.

On to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" I reckon.


Patti Anne said...

Does he really say "Elementary, my dear Watson?".

Did he really respect Watson or just use him for a sounding board?

Nice write up!

A Valdese Blogger said...

Sherlock did not use that exact phrase - I looked for it, and I don't remember reading it. And he seemed to genuinely like Watson. Watson wasn't dumb, he was a medical doctor after all. He just wasn't a detective.

Anonymous said...

Scarlet meant bloody signifying murder. Study in Scarlet is study of the murder for Holmes it was essentially a study. He talks about why he would call it study in scarlet somewhere in the middle of the book. Yeah you did miss it. :)