Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of Four

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Kindle Edition, 2012 (1927)


I am in the process of reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and thought I would share some reviews as I went along. The introduction to this edition, by Robert Ryan, digs a little deeper into Watson's background, an interesting (if slightly self-promotional for the man whose novel uses Watson as its protagonist) addition to the stories.


A Study in Scarlet: "A Study in Scarlet" is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street. In "A Study in Scarlet" Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.

Quote: "Where there is no imagination there is no horror."

A Study in Scarlet documents the beginning of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and his on/off lodger, Dr. John Watson. The story begins with some background to Watson's life, including his time in the Afghan War, and the two men are brought together by their mutual desire for someone to share the rent with.

Enter Sherlock - cool, calculating, obsessive and endlessly intriguing, and oft-consulted by the London police force. The story follows a murder case that is complicated by numerous clues and circumstances that only Sherlock is able to fathom, while Watson and the two policemen, Lestrade and Gregson, range from having no idea to arresting the wrong man.

Holmes, meanwhile, catches the real murderer largely off the page, only revealing his hand at the end of part one. At this point, with the murderer's name revealed, the story veers off somewhat unexpectedly, zooming in on a desperate, dying man and a young girl, who are rescued by a band of Mormon pioneers heading towards Utah, where Salt Lake City will be founded. The roots of the earlier murder, and indeed the whole mystery, are located in this second section, yet at times it seemed a little drawn out. This is not to say that part two is uninteresting, but that Doyle creates such compelling characters in Holmes and Watson that I was more interested in them than the epic backstory.

There is no way for the reader to unravel A Study In Scarlet without Sherlock's help, which somewhat goes against the usual format of a mystery, but it was a pleasure to see Sherlock and Watson on their first meeting, and some clever slivers of deduction from Holmes whets the reader's appetite for the adventures that follow.

The Sign of Four: Yellow fog is swirling through the streets of London, and Sherlock Holmes himself is sitting in a cocaine-induced haze until the arrival of a distressed and beautiful young lady forces the great detective into action. Each year following the strange disappearance of her father, Miss Morstan has received a present of a rare and lustrous pearl. Now, on the day she is summoned to meet her anonymous benefactor, she consults Holmes and Watson.

Quote: "...he had a most marked aversion to men with wooden legs."

Holmes and Watson are visited by a distraught woman with a long-missing father. Miss Morstan, who has begun to receive valuable pearls and cryptic notes in the post, elicits the help of the two men to solve the mystery, only to find that the first mystery soon becomes enveloped by a second, more sinister one.

A complex affair, involving stolen treasure, a hidden boat, and the mystery 'sign of the four', this mystery spans generations and continents, and takes the form of a more conventional mystery story, allowing the reader access to more clues even as, inevitably, such clues are only clear to Sherlock himself. Watson, distracted by his attraction to Miss Morstan, remains largely baffled, but willing to go along with Holmes' bizarre commands as they race the recover the mysterious treasure.

A wonderful, intricate adventure, with a little bit of romance on the side for Watson (and plenty of disdainful commentary from his cocaine-addicted roommate...)


  1. I feel like rereading Sherlock Holmes too! And then trying out House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz...we'll see if I can manage that this year , though I won't hold my breath :) Great reviews, Kit!

  2. Ohh I'd forgotten about House of Silk! I'll have to remember to look for it once I've finished this Holmes collection, thanks for reminding me. :)


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