Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 6.5/10

A Study in Scarlet is Doyle's introduction to the world of the proportionally conceited Sherlock Holmes. It deals with the murder of one Enoch Grebber under, you guessed it, mysterious circumstances. (Some spoilers.)

I found Holmes to be quite full of himself in the book, conceit being his main driving force: why he solves crimes, why he keeps knowledge of the murder to himself as opposed to telling the detectives, why he considers himself a consulting detective (the detective other detectives turn to when they're lost). Doyle wants to amaze us, sure, with Holmes' brilliance, but Holmes' awareness of his incredible powers is annoyingly apparent. I also found Holmes to be a less creative reinkarnation, if you will, of Edgar Allan Poe's origin brilliant detective: Dupin, who Holmes briefly discusses derisively. If Poe only would have realized the commercial potential of Dupin, he might not have been so plagued by poverty. But who's to say the genre would have taken off in America the way it did in for Doyle in Britain?

I found the story to be heavily plot-driven; there's limited character development. Yes, we are told in the beginning of Watson's past as a doctor in the military. Also, much of the tale is concentrated on Jefferson Hope. However, this is to give the backdrop, to explain his motivation for the murder - to drive the plot forward. The heavy dependence on plot leaves much to be desired from the characters, such as Holmes, Lucy and John Ferrier. I didn't believe in the love between Lucy and Jefferson. I found Holmes to be very one-dimensional. And Watson: he follows Holmes around with admiring eyes like a puppy dog.

I thought "Chapter I" of "Part II: The Country of Saints" to be well written: the description of the desolate landscape make you feel you're there, suffering with John and Lucy and waiting for certain death. However, the creativity and good writing seems to peter out as the novella continues. Much of it appears to be rushed. On the Wikipedia page for the story, it states that Doyle completed the story in three weeks. It shows. Still well-written overall and thoughtful. I enjoyed reading "Part I" more than "Part II," the beginning of which, switching to a third-person omniscient narrator, stuck out like a Band-Aid in the plot.

Finally, the end of the book, when Holmes methodically describes how his analytical reasoning, as he calls it, led him to apprehend the murderer, is both redundant and anti-climactic. He already describes this in "Part I" toward the end, repeating much of the same points. It's also anti-climactic since we already know how and why the murder took place given the narrative of the Lucy, John, and Jefferson. The tale should have ended either at the end of "Chapter V," before the return to Watson's narrative, or in "Chapter VI," before Holmes' annoying declaration of genius, describing again how he reasoned above everyone else and solved and apprehended the murderer in three days.

Still, a good read, especially for the Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction fans. Good writing also, if parts seem rushed and overly dependent on plot.

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