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Book Review: A Study In Scarlet By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is the first novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which he introduces the English detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It was first published in 1887 and strange as it may seem now didn't receive much notice from the public.

The novel is one of only four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the great English detective and marks the beginning of the famous “Sherlock Holmes era”.

This novel is divided into two parts with the first part dealing prominently with the legendary meeting of Sherlock and Dr. Watson, and the introduction of the other characters as well as the murder mystery.
The story begins in 1881, where Dr. Watson runs into an old friend, Stamford. Due to a shoulder injury sustained in the Anglo-Afghan War, he was forced to retire and is now looking for a place to live in London. Stamford mentions that an acquaintance of his, one Sherlock Holmes, is looking for someone to split the rent in “some nice rooms”, but cautions about Holmes' eccentricities. Watson agrees to meet Holmes and so the platform is set for the legendary meeting between Watson and Sherlock Holmes, thus marking the beginning of one of the most illustrious partnerships of all time.

I was intrigued by Sherlock Holmes as was Watson in the book and I feel here Conan Doyle succeeded in generating interest of the reader in solving the mystery of Sherlock Holmes who is portrayed as an enigma by Watson in his narrations. Just like Watson, I felt the need to prepare a list of all things I knew about Holmes and thus coming close to knowing him.

Just as I was busy in deciding what it was that Sherlock Holmes did, I was suddenly given an insight into his occupation when he tells Watson that he is a consulting detective and asks him to join in a new mystery that has come his way. The mystery is that of a dead body found in an abandoned rural manor. The police have no leads and the murder is utterly baffling with only a word “Rache” found written on the wall in blood and a ring found near the body. Blood has been found in the room but there is no mark on the body. They also learn from documents found on his person that he was in London with a friend, Joseph Stangerson. I felt the murder mystery very intriguing which left me speculating till the end.

The second part takes us back in time to the year 1847 in Utah where we get to know the murderer as a brave and passionate man who is passionately in love with the beautiful Lucy. They are engaged to be married but events lead to Lucy’s death and he is left an angry and vengeful man who vows revenge on all responsible.

The novel duly fulfills its part as a platform to introduce the main characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Lestrade for the future Sherlock Holmes stories/novels.

Doyle’s writing is crisp and is easy to read given that it is now more than a century old book.
There is wit and humor as well as compassion in his writing. The dialogues are memorable and remain in our memory long after we have finished reading the book. The second part of the book specially appeals to the sympathetic side of the reader where I ended up feeling sad and betrayed by the unhappy ending to the story of the murderer. Doyle is successful in bringing out the analytic abilities of Sherlock Holmes and also in confirming the fact that though he is a genius in his line of detective work, he is totally ignorant in other aspects of life. In the words of Dr. Watson,

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know nothing.

The plot is very challenging and left me speculating till the end but still at certain parts I felt a little confused regarding the flow of things like I had missed something and had to reread certain parts again but then it might be the aim of Doyle to keep the reader a bit confused as I was reading the reminiscences of Dr. Watson and he was supposed to be left in the dark until Holmes explained all to him. However,  at the end all is made clear and his reasoning in solving the mystery, explained by Holmes to Dr. Watson.

I rate A Study in Scarlet 4 out of 5 simply because I feel that the story could have been portrayed more interestingly but nonetheless the book is thoroughly enjoyable, a must read and also worth any number of re reads.

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