Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet(By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) First of all, I swear I've already written this one before, but as I can find no evidence of a previous post, here it is again (or not again if this is the first time).  Just before I actually watched the new BBC show Sherlock I had actually unrelatedly started reading all of the Holmes stories.*  I had read a bunch of the short stories as a youngster but for whatever reason I had never read the novels.  So when I set out to actually read all of the Sherlock oeuvre I figured I would read them in order.**  That put A Study in Scarlet first.

Despite being nearly one hundred and fifty years old the story doesn't feel dated at all.  In fact if you ignore the few technological differences that come up (carriages vs cars for example) it could easily take place in the present.  Even the dialogue between characters doesn't sound, for lack of a better term, old.  Read a bit of Pride and Prejudice and you'll see what I mean.***  Holmes and Watson do tend to throw out the occasional SAT word and sound a bit high brow, but one's a doctor and the other's an effete snob (in other words that's what they are supposed to sound like).

The story is pretty standard Holmes fare.  Dead bodies, clever deductions, etc, etc.  As I said in my Sherlock post, the episode is nigh unto a direct copy of the book with one huge exception. As you're reading the book everything is proceeding as you'd expect, but if you were paying attention you'd see that Holmes and Watson seem to have nearly the whole thing wrapped up but there is still about a third of the book to go.  that's because suddenly you are no longer in the foggy London of the industrial revolution, but instead you find yourself in the desert in the American Old West.  There's no mention of any of the previous characters and there is no warning that the change is about to happen.  Instead, one minute it is, "Right, what's all this then" and the next it's a man and a little girl dying from dehydration.  It's a disconcerting enough switch that I actually turned a few pages back to see if I'd missed something or if perhaps there'd been a misprint and somehow a Zane Grey novel had snuck into my Doyle.

The side jaunt is explanation of the motives of the killer.  It's overly long for its purpose and really is more distracting than useful.  The short version of it is that the killer is nearly justified in what he's done because the Mormons are trying to kill him.**** Holmes enthusiast say that A Study in Scarlet is actually one of the weaker Holmes stories and I imagine it's for that reason alone.

A Study in Scarlet: A-

* - I had started reading the novels and stories and then got the first season of Sherlock as a gift.  There, now you know more about that they you cared or needed to.
** - To avoid stepping on toes in a debate only a complete Holmes geek would care about, I went with chronological order of original publication.  I know you think it unlikely anyone would care about the order, but trust me, the internet is full of wackos.
*** - Yes I know Pride and Prejudice is a seventy years older than A Study in Scarlet.  Quit knit picking.  You get my point.
**** - Bet you didn't see that one coming.  Now you know how I felt.


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