A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Thoughts Before Reading:
For those of you who don’t know, this month marks the 128th anniversary of this book. Published in July of 1888, these characters have found a way into all our hearts.
So Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite literary detectives.
I’ve read almost all his stories, seen countless films and TV shows, and just all around enjoy his character. His massive intellect and keen observational skills are just so admirable, I can’t resist him.
So A Study in Scarlet is the first novel to have this brilliant detective. Many assume it is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s detective character that came out year’s before, Charles Dupin, but Doyle insisted that it was based on one of his professors.
So while the novel is split into two parts, in my opinion it is actually divided into three.
Part I: Mr. Sherlock Holmes
In this we are introduced to Dr. Watson. Shortly after he received his medical degree he was attached to the military as their assistant surgeon. He was sent off to India, where he was wounded and sent to a hospital. There he had even worse luck, catching a fever and becoming severely ill.
After that he was sent home, honorable discharge, where he decided to move to London. Staying in a hotel he quickly burned through his money and found himself in need of cheaper lodgings.
He runs into an old friend who tells him of an acquaintance that is also looking for a roommate, a Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
We are first introduced to Sherlock Holmes doing an experiment in which he has found a way to prove how old blood is and whether a stain is blood or not. He also knows that Dr. Watson has recently returned from Afghanistan.
Sherlock tells him about the rooms and when Dr. Watson and he look over the place and hear the rent price they find it most agreeable.
Sherlock Holmes is not a difficult way to live with. He is quiet, had his own habits he stays firmly by, has extensive energy when interested in something, but would have moments when he was hit by a “mood” and wouldn’t get up for months. Watson notices at times he looks like he is under a drug (opium) but Watson cannot believe such a man devoted to cleanliness could do such a thing.
Sherlock knows nothing of contemporary events or anything that he feels does not relate to his studies. In fact Watson lists of everything he does and doesn’t know:
- Knowledge of Literature — Nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy — Nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy — Nil.
- Knowledge of Politics — Feeble
- Knowledge of Botany — Variable. Mostly poisons, nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology — Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance the different soils from each other.
- Knowledge of Chemistry — Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy — Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensation Literature — Immense. Knows every detail of ever horror perpetuated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an excellent singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Sherlock is also a keen observer and tells Watson how he knew of his time in Afghanistan. He also shares about how he often helps the police solve crimes. And at that very moment, a Marine comes with a note that Sherlock is wanted.
Part II: The Lauriston Garden Mystery
Sherlock receives a note from Detective Gregson to come to Lauriston Gardens as they are at a loss to how the crime was committed and by who?
Sherlock invites Watson to come along, and the duo are off. When they arrive on the scene, Sherlock surprises Watson as he doesn’t rush inside the house to search it, but spends a long time looking at everything, from the ground, to the sky, to the house’s outside, etc. He notices that a cab has been there. but neither Gregson or Detective Lestrade or their men know anything about that.
The victim is about 43 or 44. He is dressed well in a heavy broadcloth frock coat and waistcoat. . His hands were clenched and arms thrown abroad while his lower limbs were interlocked as though he went through a struggling death. A look of hatred on his face and blood everywhere, but no wound on the corpse. A woman’s wedding ring is also found, along with the word “RACHE” painted on the wall.
The detectives believe the word to have been Rachel but cut off. Sherlock points out that the murderer was male, over six feet high, smoked a trichinopoly cigar, had a florid face, long fingernails on the right hand, killed the man by poison, and that rache is German for revenge.
The two them head down to the first officer on the scene, John Rance. They learn from him that there was a drunk there that night, but they just sent him off. Sherlock berates the man as this drunk was clearly the murderer, a cabdriver which explains the cab marks left behind.
Sherlock sends out advertisements in the newspapers about a found wedding ring knowing that by using it, it will be the perfect bait for the trap.
Meanwhile, the detectives have discovered that their victim was acting ungentlemanly toward his landlady’s daughter. Her brother was on shore leave, and is known for a temper. They know the two got into it and to make it worse, just like in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, they discovered the brother with a bloody walking stick.
Sherlock of course doesn’t believe that and is set on his way. To his surprise, he is approached by a woman saying it belongs to her daughter. Sherlock follows her, but looses her in the crowd. Is Sherlock wrong?
Part III: The Country of Saints
Here we get our killer’s backstory and reasons for poisoning these people. Back in Utah, John Ferriar’s wagons traveling west have been destroyed and everyone is dead except for him and a young girl, Lucy. With all gone, John adopts the young girl.
As they are dying of thirst, they come upon some Mormons who allow them to join their group and save them from death. Over ten years layer, John’s farm has prospered and Lucy has grown into a fine, beautiful woman. All the young Mormon men want to add her to their families and John’s land to their own. But both John and Lucy don’t want to become ingrained with the Mormons, in fact Lucy falls for Jefferson Hope, silver miner and son of John Ferriar’s old friend.
With the Mormons threatening the group, Hope and Ferriars hatch a plan to escape.
However, the plain is foiled and Hope is left stranded in the desert. When he gets back to the area he discovers that both Ferriar and Lucy have died.
He decides to avenge their death and tracks them down all the way to England to kill them.
Thoughts After Reading:
I really loved the first two parts of the novel when we are introduced to Sherlock and his investigation.
Amazingly well written and a definite winner.
However, I didn’t really care for the Utah backstory. It was boring.
The book would be better without it, but even with it it is still good.
For more on classics, go to The Unsolvable Mystery: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
For more private investigators, go to Decked