Wednesday, October 18, 2006

36. A Study in Scarlet

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I recently purchased a very handsome leather-bound Complete Sherlock Holmes. Okay, it was $20.00 from Barnes & Noble and that kind of makes me feel bad for all those legitimate old-school books sitting in dusty bookshops somewhere, selling for maybe five times that, but looking at it on my shelf you would never know the difference. And it’s what’s inside that counts, right? Trust me, it’s really pretty.

The first thought I had when reading A Study in Scarlet was, how did I go twenty-five years without ever having read Sherlock Holmes? Who let that happen? Why didn’t anyone tell me he was so great? Granted, I know we wouldn’t know about Holmes if there weren’t some merit to his existence and I know there are societies, secret societies even, devoted to keeping these works alive and I even remember playing some type of computer game when I was younger that involved Scotland Yard and 221B Baker St., even though I don’t remember it specifically involving Holmes himself. But no one ever said, “Hey, that Arthur Conan Doyle guy…you should read him!” I wish someone had. It seems such a shame that I went my entire life not knowing the great detective. So, if you’ve never read any of these stories, read them. I don’t care if you’re nine or ninety-nine, if you like fantasy, chick lit, or historical novels, or can’t fathom ever reading a mystery. Pick up a Sherlock Holmes today. Because this Arthur Conan Doyle guy…you should read him.

A Study in Scarlet is the first Sherlock Holmes story and the one in which he and the inimitable Dr. John Watson meet. Watson has come back to London from his tour of duty with the Army and, with a bum leg, he needs an affordable place to stay. A mutual friend suggests he room with Holmes and upon visiting 221B Baker St. he agrees. Watson views Holmes with great interest, but is surprised that a man of his intellect isn’t very well read. Holmes explains the gaps in his knowledge as retaining only those facts which will prove useful to him, only “a fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”

It’s not long before Holmes receives a letter telling him of a house found open and empty except for a man, laying murdered on the floor. Upon arriving at the crime scene, Watson watches as Holmes inspects the pathway to the house, some dust on the floor, and the word “Rache” scrawled in blood on the floor. Scotland Yard detectives Gregson and Lestrade immediately claim that the murder was done in the name of a “Miss Rachel,” but Holmes has other ideas. “I’ll tell you one thing which may help you in the case,” he tells the two detectives. “There has been a murder done, and the murderer was a man. He was more than six feet high, was in the prime of his life, had small feet for his height, wore coarse, square-toed boots and smoked a Trichinopoly cigar. He came here with his victim in a four-wheeled cab, which was drawn by a horse with three old shoes and one new one off his fore-leg. In all probability the murderer had a florid face, and the fingernails of his right hand were remarkably long.” All this from a few minutes of observation.

Observation is, of course, Holmes’s forte and it’s simply amazing watching him unfold a case and latch onto clues that others miss entirely. Watson describes him as being reminiscent of a “pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound, as it dashes backward and forward through the covert, whining in its eagerness, until it comes across the lost scent.” I won’t spoil the mystery by dishing out all the details to you, but suffice it to say that it’s a story of murder in the name of love, though not for a woman named Rachel. I was surprised at how impossible it was not to fall completely in love with Sherlock Holmes because that’s exactly what happened as I fell into these pages. He is awe-inspiring in his intellect and Watson’s fascination with him becomes our own as he’s both incredulous of and captivated by this character.

In A Study in Scarlet Watson found his partner in infamy. I may have found my new favorite leading man.


Blogger piksea said...

I bought that Sherlock Holmes book, too. It's gorgeous, isn't it? I couldn't resist it. I haven't actually read from it yet, but I will.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

I feel the same when I occasionally dip into my incredibky ugly, but only .98 copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Why didn't I ever read this stuff before?

I'm glad to be reading it (on and off) now that I have the patience to steep in the details. I was amazed by the whole MOrmon thing and Doyle's take on the American West. (that is the same story right? it has been awhile...)

9:35 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Yep, Carrie, that's the same story. I was surprised about the Mormon stuff, too and, really, how much of the story took place in the US. I recently went to a colloquium on Holmes and Doyle and one of the speakers talked about Doyle's relationship with the US and it seems he was pretty awed by it. Wonder what he would think of it now.

Piksea - I also have the Complete Edgar Allen Poe and the Complete Lewis Carroll. They're awesome and for $20 who, really, can resist? My children will cherish these books one day, even if they're just from B&N.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Welcome to the world of Sherlock Holmes. We Sherlockians (or Holmesians) as we like to call ourselves take the stories seriously - mostly as a textbook of friendship between two extraordinary men. Conan Doyle's simple yet descriptive writing stands the test of time, setting him apart from other Victorian authors.

Feel free to check out The Baker Street Blog for additional information.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Thanks, Scott! I actually got to hear some of you BSI's speak when I went to a Homles/Doyle colloquium at the Newberry Library. I went so I could review it for Gapers Block, but I had a really good time when I was there. You can read my review here:

12:22 PM  

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