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Mystery Monday Review – A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

A former army doctor returns to Victorian London from the war in Afghanistan. Instead of decorations and commendations, the war has given the medical man “nothing but misfortune and disaster.” He suffers chronic pain from a wound in the shoulder from a bullet at Maiwand. He caught a case of enteric fever so terrible they doctors gave up hope he would pull through. But, in his mid-twenties, he drew upon the resources of youth and did not die.

Back in London he must live on a small disability pension while he recovers his health. He desperately needs an affordable apartment. Another man has just rented an apartment in Baker Street and is looking for a roommate. The man says out of the blue to the doc’s amazement, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” The veteran warns of his eccentricities: “My nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy,” thus listing the classic symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue.

Their meeting marks the beginning of the most famous partnership in detective fiction, John H. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. The two are still getting used to each other’s eccentric qualities when a letter arrives from Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard about a killing near Brixton Road. An American named Enoch J. Drebber – now there’s a Englishman’s idea of a typical American name – was murdered, and there are no clues but for the German word “revenge” smeared on the wall with blood.

Holmes invites Watson to accompany him on his work as a consulting detective. Holmes, a brilliant quirky loner, is still human enough to get a kick out of astounding us ordinary people. Watson joins readers, clients and the cops Gregson and Lestrade as an appreciative audience when Holmes explains how he uses his knowledge and skill to “read” a crime scene and deduce the steps in a crime.

This was the first Holmes story, published as a novelette in the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual. It’s not hard to understand why it was rejected many times before the 27-year-old author finally sold it. The successful first part introduces Holmes and Watson in a captivating style familiar from the later stories – it’s amazing Conan Doyle seems to have found his voice for these stories on the very first try. But the second part, set in the United States, fails as a western or an adventure tale, though it reads smoothly enough. It also expresses unfortunate views of the Church of LDS and Native Americans. Conan Doyle should have just made up a religion, not pandered to anti-Mormon prejudices of his day.




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One Response to “Mystery Monday Review – A Study in Scarlet”

  1. Vicky A. (dunnville) says:

    Sounds like a fun book! Nice way to break up this long winter season!

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