Mild spoilers ahead…
I usually have trouble separating characters from their on screen counterparts, especially if i’ve enjoyed watching them. In this case however, I was surprised to find that my imagination for the most part remained intact and was not clouded by the faces and performances of the most recent iteration, à la the BBC series. With that being said, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into – I thought, I knew the story and well… I was wrong! Going forward I need to remember that the word adaptation can be presented in the loosest of ways. I implore you do the same.
A Study In Scarlet (1887) is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first book in the Sherlock Holmes series. It introduces readers to the pairing of our narrator Dr John Watson and the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes who shortly after becoming acquainted, are summoned to a South London House by the news that a man has been found dead. This grim discovery is complicated further by the complete absence of wounds on the body or signs of a struggle and the word “RACHE” – German for ‘revenge’ – being written in blood on the wall. The only piece of evidence to accompany the scene is a woman’s wedding ring.
The book, not including the intro, is only 141 pages long and within them Doyle manages to produce a multi-layered story with an intriguing set of characters. As well as his coherent and well structured writing style, the intricacies of his characterisation of Sherlock and hence his deductions make you wonder whether Doyle himself were a detective at some point during his life. Sherlock is impressive as is Watson’s ability to be endearing; moreover, while the narrative is written to adhere to our two protagonists adhere, Doyle is also able to – however small of a role – provide the reader with just the right amount of characterization to have you both care and understand their motivations.
“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.”
During the second part of the book there is a huge jump in narrative voice and setting which completely caught me off guard. It’s jarring because it has almost nothing to do with either Sherlock or John, the story instead shifts from a Who narrative into a Why narrative, and though it eventually ends up tying up with the overall plot, it feels like you’re reading an entirely different novel.
Overall, I found myself rather enjoying how Doyle decided to write this book. Despite being presented as a detective story, it is in fact, one of revenge and in writing these two contrasting but connecting parts, Doyle rather inadvertently asks for you to choose which account you prefer and whether the crime can be now viewed as justifiable. To make the decision somewhat challenging he writes them in a way to leave the reader to decide whether certain characters should be viewed as perpetrators or victims. As for me, I like both parts equally the same, was the crime justified? Perhaps. The outcome implies a more objective resolution but really it’s up to you to decide.
If you want to get into detective fiction, I highly recommend you give A Study in Scarlet a read!