As a young kid I was an avid reader. I used to read a lot of books before I came to college, after which the habit died. I recently decided that this lack of reading had gone on long enough, and that I would start reading again. And by reading, I don’t mean RSS feeds, blog posts, magazine and newspaper articles, etc. (which I do plenty of). I mean books. Preferably, good books. So, I set about trying to decide what book I would read first. The Harry Potter books, though phenomenal, and in my opinion the best books ever written, didn’t count because I’ve read them all more times than any one person should, and I never really stopped re-reading them. I then came across the absolutely brilliant British TV series Sherlock. Having watched the series and being totally drawn into it, it occurred to me that I hadn’t ever read the original texts of all the Sherlock Holmes books as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Therefore, I decided that I would finally get around to reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories in chronological order.
According to this page the first Sherlock Holmes book is A Study in Scarlet (iBooks, Kindle). While I was reading the book, I realized that it had been a really long time since I’d read a book like this, and that it would be a good exercise to note some words that I hadn’t come across before (or didn’t remember). I also found a couple of really great quotes that I decided to highlight. The beauty of reading an e-book is that you can look up words and phrases extremely easily in place without losing your train of thought. Also, I don’t feel bad highlighting portions of the book. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like I’m defacing the book. But, I digress - this is a different topic that I’d rather not get into right now. As I was kept reading, I also decided that I would use my endeavor to restart my reading habit to also restart my writing habit. I’ve decided that I will write a few paragraphs about every book I read, pick one quote from the book that I liked, and a few words that I learned from reading the book.
In any event, I think I’ve rambled on enough about why I’m writing this. Getting down to brass tax, here’re my impressions of A Study in Scarlet.
Overall, I found A Study in Scarlet to be somewhat of a dull read. The overall plot is fantastic, but I felt that a significant portion of the book was unneeded. If you’re not already a fan of the series, I would not recommend this as a place to start.
Part 1 of the book begins with the introduction of Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. I think this part is rather well written. Specifically, I enjoyed how Holmes deduces that Dr. Watson is an ex-army Doctor who served in Afghanistan. The part where he explains his thought process to Dr. Watson was also great. The set up of the murder is pretty well done and moves fairly quickly. In typical Holmes fashion, he gives the impression that he knows what’s going on early on, but does not reveal his insights to anyone.
Then, we get to the incredibly boring chapters of Part 2 about Stangerson’s, Drebber’s and Hope’s history in Utah. This part is extremely boring to read, and feels like it’s an entirely different book. There is far too much detail about how Hope was wronged, the Mormon society, etc. The worst part is that none of it is required for the main plot of the story. Really, all that’s needed is a resourceful, determined and clever Hope who’s motivated to pursue two bad guys who have wronged him. There’s no need to write four chapters about it. Maybe Sir Arthur wanted to write about Mormon society for some reason. If you decide to read the book and are having a hard time getting through this part, all you need to know is that Stangerson and Drebber killed Hope’s fiancé and her father. He’s determined to get revenge and is resourceful and clever. The details aren’t worth much.
After the long, boring digression, the book returns to Watson’s journal. Holmes uses his homeless network to nab Hope. Hope confesses since he’s about to die anyway. He simply wants to the record to show that he was not just another cheap murderer. I was left disappointed by the fact that there’s not a lot of mystery about why Hope was confident that Drebber would take the poison pill. Leaving it to chance just seems lame. Holmes’ thought process is as always interesting, but not all that exciting in this case.
Compared to the BBC show
Overall, I thought BBC’s A Study in Pink was a much better version of the same general plot. Sherlock’s introduction to Watson had more detail, and was more exciting. There’s none of the boring Mormon story, and it’s a significant enough deviation from the book that you don’t see what’s coming. I also thought that their version of the story was far more entertaining. It kept me glued to my TV; it took significant effort to just keep reading the book. I thought the whole dance between Sherlock and the cabbie with the poisoned versus un-poisoned pill was excellent and it left me hanging - was it really chance?
There were a few good ones in this book, but I enjoyed this one the most. This is Watson talking about what his post war decisions:
I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.
Reticent [adjective]: Not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily.
Portmanteau [noun]: A large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.
Paroxysm [noun]: A sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity.
Halcyon [adjective]: Denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.
Despite the fact that I thought this was a pretty mediocre book, I’m going to stick with reading the Sherlock Holmes series, since I know that there are some great stories to come. Next up: The Sign of the Four (iBooks, Kindle).