A Study in Scarlet, is the first Sherlock Holmes mystery that Doyle wrote. Although I mostly enjoyed it, it’s pretty clear he was just starting this thing out. It’s a little rough in patches. Also, while I read this when I was younger, I had completely forgotten the weird Mormon/Native American Tracker (or is he a white dude adopted by Native Americans? It’s never quite clear.) tangent he goes off on at one point. The tangent does make me kind of want to ticket of the “Western” Category box just kind of as a laugh. But I won’t. Because I love my fellow Cannonballers and don’t want to lead you astray.
Anyway, in this first book we meet Watson. I forgot how quirky Watson actually is. I also forgot that the main reason Watson ends up hanging around with Holmes is because, thanks to his war injury in his arm, his entire life path has ceased to exist. He had these grand plans, his whole life set out for him. He joined the army anticipating a relatively mellow tour where he could hone his skills as a surgeon and give his career a bit of a jump start. Then there was a pesky war in Afghanistan. It turns out, war really sucks, and not only is it a horrible experience for Watson, but he ends up injured in his arm on top of all of it. That plot point is, sadly, somewhat easy to identify with in our more modern era. Given where medical technology is in the Victorian era, and given how surgeons worked, there is absolutely no way he can be a surgeon with a wonky arm. So, his entire life is now up in the air and while he downplays the direness of his straights and the size of this loss a bit, he’s essentially trying to survive on a veteran’s pension. Which isn’t all that easy. That’s when a buddy of his mentions that an acquaintance of his is looking for a roommate…
And we meet Sherlock. I had forgotten that Sherlock is really quite funny, in a dry way. It also makes a point that he is not a miraculous super genius, he is quite brilliant, but he is also very methodical in his learning, and also very aware that his retention has limits. This means he doesn’t bother with things that do not help him on a day to day basis. The Earth revolves around the sun. He does not care, because this will not change anything about how he lives his life and most likely will not help him solve any kind of mystery. So he decides to just forget that fact after Watson tells him. Sherlock is an odd roommate, but he is also very kind and considerate in a sort of unusual Sherlock-ian way. For example, sometimes when he’s thinking, he’ll just play random notes and noises on his violin until he sorts through his problem. He is aware this can be annoying, so after he’s finished, he’ll play a piece he knows Watson likes as a sort of “thanks for putting up with that.” I think in the general modern image of Sherlock we have forgotten these little bits of his character, we focus on the logic, and his snobbery, and even his drug use and forget that Watson does actually enjoy his company for real, legitimate reasons. He’s overall an enjoyable person to be around, even if he can be frustrating.
Then, one day while discussing the potential uses of observation over breakfast, a man comes to the door with a case for Sherlock. A man has been found dead in an abandoned house and one of the Inspectors would like his opinion. After whining for a bit about how Scotland Yard will just use him for the ideas and hog all the credit he agrees to go and, in the spirit of demonstrating the powers of observation that they had just been discussing, he invites Watson along. From there, it’s off to the races.
The mystery then unfolds itself and the Sherlock and Watson part is really quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, Doyle decided that there needed to be more backstory? I guess? Ultimately I think it just came down to Doyle being very enamored with the legend of The American West. The thing is, I don’t think I would have minded it so much if he had plopped it in after the culprit had been apprehended, like, as part of his confession. It’s having it take a hard left turn right before Sherlock shares who the murderer is with the team, that’s very awkward on top of a very melodramatic, overlong (and historically inaccurate) story about an orphan girl and her caretaker who end up being taken in by Mormons. It’s odd story structure, to say the least.
Anyway, I kind of skimmed that part and waited for it to get back on track. It wraps up pretty quickly after we end up back in England and pretty much ends with a bit of a “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,’ moment.
While this isn’t my favorite Sherlock story it has reminded me of why I do like them and I’ll probably pick up another one down the road this year.
This is my Classics Square for CBR Bingo.