Saturday, September 12, 2009

book review - A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle

The book that introduces the most well known fictional detective is very much a story in two halves. The first is imaginative seizing you and taking you into a world where Sherlock Holmes is working in almost complete isolation trying out his detecting techniques.

Watson seeks him out as a flat mate and Holmes eventually brings the doctor into his world showing him the cases he works with. The case of A Study in Scarlet is one that has foxed the detectives from Scotland Yard but not one beyond Holmes. Like a great magician he keeps most of his secrets up his sleeve until the end.

But before you get to the end you get a long winded account of the background and explanation for the murderer’s actions. This drags a bit as the action switches from the crowded streets of London to the early days of the Mormons and the case of a man and his daughter hounded out of the community.

In a way a lot of that material could have been produced in a much more concise way and it does lose the rhythm and at points the interest of the reader. Of course the reason is that the reasoning of Holmes has to be shown to be so complete and thorough that all of the details come to bear at the conclusion of the story.

As a ripping yarn the first half hits the spot but the second is something that sadly undermines that experience. But as an introduction to one of the greatest literary characters it is impossible not to be drawn in by Holmes. His intelligence, which borders on arrogance, is so reassuring that you never once doubt that he knows what he is doing.

It is that trust in Holmes that is established from the start that probably makes him so well liked. Despite his quirky character you are completely on his side and want to read more of his adventures. No doubt the style of writing in bit-parts for a magazine helped build that page turning desire but it is also down to Conan Doyle’s ability that it works as well as it does.

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