Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Study in Scarlet: Review

The lead-in to one of the most famous friendships in all of fiction: 

Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me over his wine-glass. "You don't know Sherlock Holmes yet," he said; "perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion."
"Why, what is there against him?"
"Oh, I didn't say there was anything against him. He is a little queer in his ideas -- an enthusiast in some branches of science. As far as I know he is a decent fellow enough." 

And, then, the famous meeting:

"Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said Stamford, introducing us.
"How are you?" he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive."

The Study in Scarlet was the world's introduction to the first consulting detective.  In it we are introduced to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson--along with recurring character Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard.  Holmes and Watson meet and decide to share lodgings (to share the costs).  Watson is curious to discover what exactly his new roommate does: he meets him in a lab, knows from a mutual acquaintance that he's studying various sciences--but not apparently for the purposes of being a doctor, and watches as an odd assortment of people come to talk with Holmes in their sitting room.  Finally, Holmes receives a message from Gregson of the Yard inviting him to take an interest in a very odd death--and Watson learns of Holmes's standing as an amateur detective.

They are off and running on the case of the death of Enoch Drebber--a man found dead in an empty house with no trace of violence on his person and no visible cause of death, despite the vast amount of blood in the room.  Holmes will scour the room (and the outdoors surrounding the house) for clues and discover that the death has it roots in the southwestern U.S.  With the help of his Baker Street Irregulars, the band of street urchins who serve as his eyes and ears in the city, he manages to track the culprit down in three days.

I grew up on Sherlock Holmes.  My big ticket item for Christmas when I was about ten years old was a green, leather-bound edition called The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes.  I read "The Red-Headed League" long before it was required in high school English. I'm revisiting the first recorded case of the famous consulting detective for a couple of challenges and just have a couple of thoughts on this delightful Victorian mystery about love and revenge.  

First, I love the meeting between Holmes and Watson.  Two strangers meet up, answer a couple of questions apiece, and immediately decide to share lodgings.  Can't see that happening in this day and age--at least I wouldn't want to share an apartment with someone I knew had been beating up dead bodies in his spare time.  Not without knowing him for longer than about 15 minutes, anyway.  It's amazing how times have changed--Doyle apparently knew that his audience wouldn't even bat an eye at that scenario.

And, second, the Baker Street Irregulars.  I enjoyed them when I first read these stories.  But I appreciate them even more now and I realize that I wish they had shown up in more stories.  Doyle uses them in Study and then in The Sign of Four and then, as far as I remember, they just sort of disappear.  I realize that Holmes and Watson are the main characters....but I do think judicious use of the Irregulars would have been a good thing sprinkled throughout other stories.

Five stars for a terrific reread.


The sight of a friendly face in the great wilderness of London is a pleasant thing indeed to a lonely man.

Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning.

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. ~Holmes

I'm not sure about whether I shall go. I am the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather -- that is, when the fit is on me, for I can be spry enough at times. ~Holmes

It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment. ~Holmes

There is nothing like first hand evidence; as a matter of fact, my mind is entirely made up upon the case, but still we may as well learn all that is to be learned. ~Holmes

I'm not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjuror gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all. ~Holmes

I must thank you for it all. I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon. 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. ~Holmes to Watson

I ought to know by this time that when a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions, it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.  ~Holmes

It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious because it presents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn.  ~Holmes

What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done. ~Holmes


Anonymous said...

Great review Bev - it's a classic book, too often ignored in favour of some of the better known short stories I suspect.

Yvette said...

I have a hard cover copy of all the stories here on a shelf and I would feel bereft if somehow the book were to disappear. It remains important even if I don't actually go to it very often.

Haven't read the original stories in a while. I loved THE RED HEADED LEAGUE very much, it was one of my first.

As for A STUDY IN SCARLET, haven't re-read it in a long time. I love the meeting between Holmes and Watson and I think the reason that they form an instant kinship is that both are - obviously - 'gentlemen'. That was a bond in those days. Being gentle of birth, I mean.

Even if they didn't have huge incomes. (Especially Watson.)

Didn't they use the same set-up in the newly hatched SHERLOCK pbs television show set in modern day London? Well, not really new. A couple of years, anyway.

PS - LOVE the quotes, Bev.

Bev Hankins said...

Yes...I realize that gentlemen could recognize one of their own. And I suppose that it helped that Stamford introduced them--gave Holmes a recommendation of sorts.

Don't ask me about the newly hatched SHERLOCK. I'm boycotting the modern day thing. :-) I get a little tetchy when people take my vintage mysteries and plop them down in modern times (I loved Basil Rathbone as Holmes--but I didn't love how he got fast-forwarded to the 1940s to battle Nazis and whatnot....)

Ryan said...

So I finally read this, this year, and I loved seeing how they got together. My only qualm was how out of the blue the Mormon thing was, and how much of the history is true.