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A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

March 3, 2018

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When reading Mindhunter last year, I was reminded of how much I liked Sherlock Holmes stories growing up. So when I saw the entire collected works of Sherlock Holmes stories (all 63 hours read by Stephen Fry!) for a single credit on Audible, I jumped on it.

A Study in Scarlet was the first appearance of the legendary Holmes and Dr. Watson. It appeared inconspicuously and without acclaim in 1887, in an English magazine called Beeton’s Christmas Annual.   Watson, the narrator, has returned from the war in Afghanistan. Seeking lodging in London, he meets Sherlock Holmes. In what would become his signature, Holmes surmises Watson’s story based on only a few quick observations. Watson is stunned, enchanted. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This book is significant as the first in the Holmes canon, but is otherwise not nearly as good as later works. It involves a murder mystery, but the entire middle section concerns a flashback to Utah in 1847, backstory to the mystery. But the flashback is way too long and relatively uninteresting. Holmes and Watson feel more like bookends—they deserve to be in every scene.

Holmes remains a fascinating character. His leaps of “deduction” (often pointed out to be more inductive) are the equivalent of Jackie Chan fight scenes—totally unrealistic but delightful in their absurdity. And Holmes is a wonderfully mixed bag as a character. He’s arrogant, sometimes rude, a drug addict (cocaine and morphine), but brilliant. In what I thought was one of the more peculiar moments in the book (maybe also just a sign of the times), Holmes tests his theory of the murder by feeding a concocted poison to his dog. The dog seems unaffected, so Holmes adjusts his mixture and tries again. The dog then dies, delighting Holmes. A mixed bag indeed.

I’m looking forward to the next 50+ hours of Holmes.

 

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