Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Study In Scarlet

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Three Things I Like About A Study in Scarlet:
1. Non sequiturs that emerge from Sherlock's internal logic.
2. Sherlock's manic approach to sleuthing.
3. Use of Mormon Salt Lake City as a setting for intrigue.

A couple weeks ago I came across a recommendation for a new BBC drama called Sherlock – a modern adaption of Sherlock Holmes. The series (thus far) consists of 3 90-minute episodes, based on Doyle’s novellas and short stories. I downloaded the first episode, “A Study in Pink,” based on A Study in Scarlet, and loved it.* Being a stickler about reading books before watching their movies and never having read ay Sherlock Holmes before, I decided to spend some time with the genuine article before watching the next two episodes.

A Study in Scarlet is the first Sherlock Holmes story. It begins with the first meeting of Dr. Watson and Sherlock. Dr. Watson is fresh from Afghanistan, having retired from service following an injury and subsequent illness, and is looking for a flat mate. Within 24 hours he and Sherlock have moved into 221 Baker Street and Dr. Watson is embroiled in Sherlock’s latest case – a man found murdered with the ambiguous word “Rache” written on the wall in blood, though the body has suffered no wounds. The mystery spans from the streets of London all the way to the wilderness of the American West, as the backstory unfolds in the fledgling Mormon city of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Like I said, I’ve never had any experience with Sherlock Holmes before. This was a good introduction – being that it is the introduction – but I’ve heard that Doyle’s later stories are much better, and I do have to agree that this one had its flaws. Sherlock didn't say "elementary" even once! And the backstory to the murder is excessive and takes up almost half the novel. I cut Doyle plenty of slack, though, because this was his very first novel and he wrote it in 3 weeks. Plus, how can you really criticize the work of someone who created one of the most iconic characters of all time?**

I enjoyed this novel particularly in juxtaposition with the first episode of Sherlock, which played off A Study in Scarlet without exactly replicating it. I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling either the book or the show, but the general introductory framework of A Study in Scarlet remains intact in the episode, as does the presence of the word “Rache” and the means of murder, though the actual circumstances and motives vary vastly. So if you have the time and interest, I definitely recommend reading A Study in Scarlet (it won’t even take you long, as it’s hardly 100 pages) and then watching Sherlock. I daresay you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll be reading more Sherlock Holmes soon, partly because I’m getting a kick out of him right now, and partly because The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will be #40 on my BBC Top 100 list. Woot!

* Seriously, it’s awesome. Sherlock is played to perfection, and the modern setting is used surprisingly effectively. It kicks the recent Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law version’s butt. And there’s three times more of it! What are you still doing here?
** Random thought, but I wonder if people will be making television adaptions of Harry Potter in like 100 years. That is, if anyone still watches TV anymore.

Books Read This Year: 20
Top 100 Progress: 39/40

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