In all of the English novels written in the past couple of centuries, very few characters have gone on to become as popular and iconic as Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s imaginary detective gained legendary status much before Robert Downey Jr. portrayed the character in blockbuster movies.
Written way back in 1887, A Study in Scarlet was the first novel in which Sherlock Holmes appeared. It is one of the only four novels in which Conan Doyle portrayed the iconic detective, other than the short stories. A Study in Scarlet is the first detective fiction in English to incorporate the magnifying glass as a tool for investigation.
Frankly speaking, I was never a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, though I had read “The Blue Carbuncle” in school. However, I should thank my wife who gave me a collection of all four novels as my birthday gift. I picked up the book just to see whether the hype was real, and it surprisingly was! Yes, the novel isn’t perfect, but it is an absolute gem!
The first part of the story is quite fast-paced. Dr. John Watson, the first narrator of the story meets the young, quirky, and freakish genius Sherlock Holmes, and they become flatmates. The story establishes the young Holmes as the protagonist as soon as the two future friends meet. And thereon, Holmes never fails to blow Watson’s mind. To be very honest, I did not enjoy the first part of the story. Everything feels like an exaggeration, however, the end of the chapter was quite a surprise.
That said, the second chapter was absolutely phenomenal. The storytelling prowess of an author as revered as Conan Doyle was on display. Detailing the story brings a life-like depiction. And more than anything, what struck me was the way the author narrates a long and complex story with few words, without losing the essence even for a moment. You believe what he says, and he absolutely pulls you into the narration.
Summary of A Study in Scarlet
“A Study in Scarlet” is a murder mystery set in 19th-century London. It has all the usual bits that you find in such stories – mysterious deaths, unknown killers, weird patterns, clues that only the protagonist can decipher.
However, what makes Sherlock Holmes so unique is that he is not infallible. He makes mistakes, and though he had the trial, he failed to prevent a murder. This gives him a more realistic appearance, than most other detective characters I have come across.
Nonetheless, the first part ends with Sherlock Holmes catching the murderer in the most dramatic way. The second chapter traces the origins of the murderer, Jefferson Hope, and we discover a world where a bunch of self-proclaimed godmen establishes a city for their followers. Their word is the law, and any disagreement results in severe punishment. Quite similar to what’s happening these days, isn’t it?
In the end, all you have is sympathy for the culprit and a number of unanswered questions. Well, that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Unanswered questions open the door for interpretations and deductions. For example, I am still trying to figure out who the hell was disguised as the old lady that claimed the lost ring!
My Problems with the A Study in Scarlet
Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, and have resolved to read the remaining three stories, I had a couple of problems with the book. First, it is racist on more than one occasion. The way Dr. Watson describes the street assistants as “dirty Arabs” is extremely offensive. It depicts how the British, the so-called pioneers of the civilized world, were actually the most racist in the world. At a time when revolutionary campaigns like Black Lives Matter are at their peak, such statements in the book made me extremely mad.
The second problem is the language. It is too formal for my liking, which, again, seems to be a British thing of yore. If it were to be written today, it could have been more fun to read. Apart from these couple of things, I loved the novel and highly recommend it to young readers. Especially, it is a must-read for young and aspiring writers.
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes – Book Review
Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.