Reading Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet

Re-reading the original Sherlock Holmes canon. Why? Uh… just for fun, I guess. This series will be about going back to the original stories and looking at them with fresh eyes. I was going to skip the first two novels and just cover the short stories, but A Study In Scarlet introduces a lot of classic Holmes continuity. (Holmesinuity?)


Facts of the case: We get the first meeting of Holmes and Watson, followed by Watson moving in to the apartment at 221B Baker St. Then we get to the case. It’s a variation on the locked-door mystery, with a dead man in a bloody crime scene, but with no apparent cause of death. Upon investigation, Holmes and Watson are confronted with people apparently disappearing from London’s horse-drawn cabs.

Great detective: We’re introduced to Holmes’ observant deduction techniques, of course. His love of the violin is prominent as well. Before Watson comes along, Holmes has a list of clients whose stories aren’t told, including a beautiful young woman (wha-hey!) and an older man with white hair (foreshadowing Moriarty?). In the lab, Holmes invents a new chemical technique that can differentiate bloodstains from other kinds of stains. This is also the story where we learn Holmes doesn’t know the Earth orbits the sun, because such knowledge doesn’t help him solve crimes.


Good doctor: The book opens with a bang, detailing Watson’s experience in the Afghan war, and his life-threatening injury. It’s like an epic action movie crammed into the first few paragraphs. Watson is described as unnaturally thin and unusually tan, thanks to his just having returned from the desert. There’s no “origin story” moment of Watson becoming Holmes’ sidekick. Holmes merely says “Get your hat” to Watson, and then they’re off on their first case together.

Who’s at the door: Lestrade is here, with a partner named Gregson. Lestrade is portrayed as really stupid, and Gregson keeps calling him a fool. Holmes and Watson’s landlady gets mentioned but not named, and they also have an unnamed servant (?) who answers the door for them. Holmes also befriends a group of homeless children, who scrounge up information for him, led by a boy named Wiggins. These kids will later be known as the Baker Street Irregulars, but in this book Holmes uncomfortably calls them “my Arabs.”


Yes, this is canon: When the Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes movie came out, I wondered since when Holmes and Watson had a dog. In this first story, Holmes does have a dog! It’s a bull terrier puppy. He uses it to test poisons. Unlike the movie, though, Holmes actually kills the poor dog with his experiments.

Also, Holmes sings! Holmes is so pumped to have an interesting mystery to solve that at one point he “carols” a Chopin tune, much to Watson’s (and the reader’s) amazement.

Action hero: The killer is revealed inside 221B Baker St., and immediately tries to get away by jumping out the window, mangling and cutting up his hands. Our heroes grab the killer and pull him back inside, preventing the escape. Then, the killer is so hardcore that it takes the combined fighting skill of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, and Gregson to subdue him.


Indubitably: If you’re going to read this one, just read the first half and stop there. The second half of the novel is a story of religious zealots in the American desert, which is barely related to the Holmes/Watson story. A Study in Scarlet sold poorly during its initial release, and I suspect this dreadful second half of the book is why. Our intro to Holmes and Watson, however, is a rollicking whodunit, confidently setting the stage for the rest of the series.

Next week: Thou shalt not count to four.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.


About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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