My previous Sherlock experiences have all centered around visual adaptations, starting with The Great Mouse Detective (1986), but #CannonBookClub is always pushing me to read new to me things. My mind’s eye had a very specific versions of Holmes and Watson cobbled together over many incarnations Watson, to me, is an intelligent everyman who is aware of the things he does not know – as well as being a man of responsibility and duty. Sherlock is a bit testy, has a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to solving a problem or getting information he needs and is how I was taught the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. I got a little burst a pleasure when a classic Sherlock expression would show up. But, on the whole, A Study in Scarlet left me feeling a bit underwhelmed so I’m glad I also read A Scandal in Bohemia before walking away from Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.
For A Study in Scarlet we are meeting these two iconic characters as they meet each other for the first time. Dr John Watson needs lodging upon his return from war in Afghanistan (a plot point utilized in the contemporary BBC Sherlock adaptation) and a friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes who is looking for someone to share expenses at 221B Baker Street. Holmes makes his living as a consulting detective which serves as a point of fascination for Watson who becomes the de facto memoirist of Holmes. For their first mystery, Sherlock is summoned to a south London house where a dead man is found. The police are baffled by the crime and its circumstances: the body is unmarked, but a mysterious word has been written in blood on the wall. Sherlock asks Watson to accompany him so that he can understand as Holmes applies logical deductive reasoning to uncover a tale of deadly revenge.
The story falls apart for me the minute we enter Part II. Doyle decided to completely change point of view and present the backstory of the victims separately. We lose the Watson narration, and with it, the heart of the story. Add in to that the very sensational way in which Doyle presented his Mormon baddies and my modern sensibilities were not having it.
For Scandal in Bohemia the portions of A Study in Scarlet which I had quite enjoyed were present and all the things I didn’t were gone. I haven’t read enough Doyle to know if he perhaps is just a stronger writer in the shorter form (this one is a short story to the novella length of A Study in Scarlet) but a few years into his journey of writing the exploits of Holmes and Watson he had dialed down admirably into his characters and provided moments for their successes and failures.
It seems to me that Doyle is using his characters to critique various aspects of British society. He wrote them in particular ways to get at something; whether it be class structures in England or the expectations assigned to the different genders with the introduction of Irene Adler. Watson, and to lesser extents Lestrade and Gregson, are the more everymen – they have ordered outlooks on the world. Holmes is their reverse, he is unordered, without concern for the things many would be concerned with. Doyle lays out the differences in a shorthand of how the men use their reasoning, be it inductive or deductive.
Bingo Square: Classics