Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I was all excited to read about the meeting of two of literature’s greatest characters. And the first half of this story delighted me.
Their initial interactions surrounding questions of science, the list of potential pet peeves that Holmes ticks off, and Watson’s resolve to study Holmes’ talent for figuring facts out make for an engrossing first chapter.
Watson’s observations about Holmes keep the story engaging. Holmes’ ability to weed out information that he deems useless is impressive. Watson writes, “No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.” David Allen built an entire organizational empire upon this idea.
While Watson continues to be impressed with Holmes’ analytical abilities, the first mystery appears in the form of a letter from none other than Tobias Gregson of Scotland Yard requesting Holmes’ assistance with a mysterious death.
While Holmes and Watson travel to the scene of the body, Holmes utters one of my favorite lines. Watson wonders why Holmes is not speculating on the situation and Holmes replies that he has no data. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment,” Holmes says. Perhaps certain journalists could take this perspective into consideration before airing their pundit wars.
Another body turns up and the police are further baffled. Holmes, however, knows that the word scrawled across the wall at the first scene is present at the second as well. Naturally, his powers of deduction have lead him to certain conclusions that merely need a few more facts to verify.
At this point, the narrative shifts into the second part of the story. And the shift is jarring to say the least. This second act starts in the American desert in the mid-1800s. In the land of Mormons, we have a father protecting his daughter from the polygamists. Huh?
Five of the seven chapters in the second half of the story focus on this Old West tale setting up the back story for the two victims and pointing out who the murderer must be. The purpose of this flashback is not made clear. Nope. You’re just reading along, wondering where this story is going, and then you’re back with Holmes explaining his deductions.
Maybe the BBC television version “A Study in Pink” is too good of a modernization of this introduction of Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes? Or maybe the second half of this story really is a jolt?
Whichever the case may be, this introduction of the Holmes and Watson duo is not as powerful as I thought it might be.