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A Study in Scarlet: Book Review

By Kyohei12 Jun 01, 2013 1423 Words
he original story that addicted readers to Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet (1887) is the first novel of legendary Sherlock Holmes series written by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the second novel for Doyle next to “J.Habakuk Jephson's Statement”, (1884) and it first appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887. While other Holmes’ stories are arguably much better written crime/detective mysteries, the origin of the best detective story for over a century consecutively delivers electrifying astonishment and impression to its readers, mostly led by the great Sherlock Holmes and his unprecedented character. His every single act, phrase is unquestionably absorbing, and it is enough to make readers grew crazy about Holmes’ world and his magnificent adventures.

The story begins in 1881. Dr. Watson, writer and first person narrative of the story, has just returned to England after serving as an army surgeon in the Second Anglo-Afghanistan War. He has no relative, so he doesn’t settle down, and he spends a sort of wandering life in London. That being said, he feels that he needs to settle in and has to get a job. One day, he surprisingly runs across an old friend, Stamford. Watson talks about his recent situation, then Stamford tells him that one man is looking for a lodger to halve his expensive house rent. It is welcome news for Watson, but his friend somehow is reluctant to introduce that man. The friend says this man is a sort of eccentric person, but it only attracts Watson’s curiosity. On another day, Watson is taken to a laboratory to meet the man. They introduce each other and shake hands. Suddenly, the man guesses correctly that Watson has been to Afghanistan before. It is the very first meeting of the legendary partner, Watson and the man, Sherlock Holmes. They start to live together, and Watson gets to know that Holmes definitely is a mysterious person. Holmes calls himself a detective consultant, not an official job, but insisting on his expertise of criminal investigation, and he manages to convince people to hire him to solve their problems. Holmes sighs that there is no exciting crime delivered these day. One day, however, a truly mysterious murder case comes to Holmes. He and Watson start the investigation together, and they find out a pathetic fact behind the crime.

The novel is made up by two parts. The first part is mainly about the investigation, and the second part is mainly about the criminal’s early life, looking back his experiences which lead him to commit multiple murders. The first part is full of fun and excitement as he repeatedly astonishes the readers by his prominently sophisticated reasoning. After a couple of weeks when Holmes and Watson start living together, Holmes reveals trick that how he guesses correctly that Watson was in Afghanistan before. According to Holmes, Holmes smoothly reaches the conclusion and describes, “Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.” [1] Holmes the very moment later guesses correctly that the bearer of a massage, who unexpectedly steps into their house, is retired sergeant Marines.

The great detective not only shows his amazing skills of crime investigation, but also displays a brilliance of wording. "There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it." [2] This quote fully expresses the character of Sherlock Holmes, and delivers a deep impression to the readers. Holmes also reveals his unheroic characteristics which give Holmes much more depth of humanity. It is shocking that Sherlock Holmes is fond of drugs even though it was not illegal at the time. He is far from being British Gentleman. He is so unconventional and even eccentric. He obtains tons of knowledge related to criminal investigation, but does not know the earth travelled round the sun. It sounds exceedingly unrealistic, but Holmes says “You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.” [3] Those eccentricities make me come to like him more. He is like no one else. That is what makes Sherlock Holmes interesting. Although the solution and the trick of the crime in A Study in Scarlet are not so surprising nor exciting at all in comparison with “The Sign of the Four” , “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” or “Led-Headed League” which are widely considered some of the most well-written Holmes’ mysteries. However, the origin of the legendary detective series delivers full of its characters’ charm, and each every act and phrase presented by Sherlock Holmes is enough to make readers addicted.

As a matter of fact, the second part of A Study in Scarlet has received plenty of criticism mainly regarding its depiction of Mormonism. In the second part, the criminal Jefferson Hope tells his story which begins in 1847. He and a woman named Lucy fell in love with each other, but two Mormon Church members, Drebber and Stangerson who were killed in the first part, try to compel Lucy to marry either of them. Because of it, Hope, Lucy and her father Ferrier decide to escape from Salt Lake City where a large party of Mormons lives. It seems to be done successfully, but Ferrier and Lucy are captured by pursuers while Hope is hunting for food. Ferrier is executed by Stangerson and Lucy is forced to marry with Drebber. She dies a month later from a broken heart. It drives Hope to the journey of revenge over the decades, and it ends up with his killing both Drebber and Stangerson in London.

In the present, it is widely said that there are over sixteen million Mormons in the world including some celebrities like Tim Tebow and Mitt Romney. The depiction of Mormonism within the story was full of errors and prejudice so that the book may mislead readers to the result of acquisition of wrong knowledge, which is inappropriate for any kind of book. That being said, Doyle was not only person in the world who had a misunderstanding for Mormonism at the moment (a considerable amount of people probably did), nor is A Study in Scarlet the only book which has a controversial view of the mormonism in its story. Consequently, those errors should be overlooked. Leaving aside the description of the mormonism, the plot of the second part is well constructed and the reader will be thrilled by the pursuers. Every single step the capturers getting close to Hope and the rest is remarkably terrifying, now that readers may enjoy the excitement of the escape.

The most arguable aspect of the novel besides the depiction of Mormonism is its poor solution for the mystery. Generally speaking, mystery novels must drop clues of solution for readers to reason conclusions, and this is one piece of pleasure for mystery fans. However, in A Study in Scarlet, the criminal Jefferson Hope and his name are never mentioned until he is arrested by Holmes all of sudden at the very end of the first part. It is hopeless to expect that Hope is the criminal, because there is no glimmer of hope as readers do not know who this Jefferson Hope is at all. Because of this poorness of the story structure, A Study in Scarlet is probably not the greatest mystery novel of the Sherlock Holmes’ series, nor as superior a mystery novel as “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and the rest, as previously stated. However, I strongly doubt whether I was able to enjoy other Holmes stories without reading its origin. Because of the impact from the very first story mainly delivered by its legendary detective, the enjoyment of following stories is appreciably enhanced. His magical phrases will touch readers hearts. Consequently, they would understand the reason why more than a century later, Sherlock Holmes still fascinates any generation of people in the world.

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