Sunday 20 September 2020

A Study in Scarlet | Arthur Conan Doyle #CCSpin


I've been wanting to read a Sherlock Holmes story for a long time now. I purchased my lovely Knickerbocker classic editions about five years ago with the good intentions of reading them in chronological order. Ever since then, I have been putting A Study in Scarlet on my CC Spin list, in the hope it would give me the good excuse I obviously needed to finally get started. 

Last month, CC Spin #24 was the charm!

And I am now a convert to the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes. I may be a little influenced by certain images from recent movie versions though, as in my head, Holmes looks rather like Robert Downey Jr and Watson looks quite a bit like Jude Law.

My edition has an Introduction by Roger Boylan, who helped me to understand that it was in fact, Watson, who was more like Doyle, in personality, than Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes is surely the one fictional character who is not only more famous than his creator, but whose personality, attitudes and interests are so completely his own, so different from those of his creator.


A Study in Scarlet is a quick, easy read. Many reports have suggested that this is not the best Holmes story by any means, which gives me high hopes for what comes next, as I thoroughly enjoyed this gentle, rather charming, 'consulting detective' story.

Narrated by Dr John Watson and set in 1881, we see Holmes through the eyes and opinions of others. Watson, of course, is our main source, but we also hear from the friend of the friend "Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes - it approaches to cold-bloodedness", and even Holmes himself, "I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end."

I really enjoyed seeing how Holmes and Watson met for the first time, and part of the pleasure of this story, is watching Watson, watching Holmes, as he experiences for the first time how Holmes likes to solve cases.

This one begins with a dead American, a message scrawled in blood across the wall and a ring. Holmes describes this case as,
the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet....There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

Act two of the story is a bit clunky albeit fascinating as we unexpectedly get a back story about the Mormon's arrival in Utah (which was new to me and therefore very interesting. So much of US history seems to be tied up with religious fanatics and separatists, discord and intolerance). 
Part way through this back story, some of the names start becoming familiar and we, the reader, realise we are getting the motive for the murders.

This section of the story caused Doyle some problems in later years. The Mormons were unhappy about how they had been depicted, especially the influence and behaviour of the Danite Band, who he described as being controlling, secretive, murderous thugs. At one point he came out and said, 
all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that, though it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It's best to let the matter rest.

Rather like an Agatha Christie whodunnit, the secret to discovering the who, why, when and how, with Holmes, is about understanding motivations and learning to see what is a clue and what is red herring. Holmes appears to be particularly skilled in this area.

A Study is Scarlet was thoroughly entertaining, and I will be back for more.

  • Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 Edinburgh, Scotland – 7 July 1930 Crowborough, East Sussex) 
  • Conan is one of his middle names (after his godfather, Michael Conan), not a part of his surname.
  • That is, he should be shelved under the 'D's not the 'C's!
  • Graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery from the University of Edinburgh in 1881.
  • Holmes was based on one of Doyle's university lecturers, Joseph Bell, 'round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man.'
  • Written in three weeks in 1886.
  • Original title: A Tangled Skein.
  • Published in 1887 in Beeton's Christmas Annual & illustrated by David Henry Friston.
  • First book published in July 1888 by Ward, Lock & Co & illustrated by ACD's father, Charles Doyle.
  • Doyle had five children with two wives. But no grandchildren. 
Favourite or Forget:
  • My very first Sherlock Holmes story & I'm in!
  • Will definitely read more.
  • I love a good origin story & this, the first meeting of Holmes and Watson is memorable for it's ordinariness. The age-old 'friend of a friend' introduction for two people in need of a room mate.
  • The Mormon back story may suffer from some historical inaccuracies or exaggerations, but it is memorable nonetheless.
Other books by Arthur Conan Doyle, read and reviewed by me:
CC Spin #24


  1. I was notified. Cheer! The notification just says Brona's Books - no post title. Boo! Good review. Cheer! Even on my desktop (I also read you on laptop and phone)your blog picks up only my business account. Boo!

    I've read Sherlock Holmes off and on over the years. He's Ok. Almost certainly depressive as well as an opium addict, but I enjoy the deductions. I can't imagine him or Holmes being acted by Americans and I hope I never accidentally see them.

    I think quite a few fictional characters have entered popular culture without their authors being as well known. James Bond for one. Harry Potter?

    1. I'm grateful for the few small wins with blogger you've now had Bill! Cheer!
      In the 'reply as' section does it say (google) after your name? If so, check your google account for your default email options - you may be able to 'fix' the issue you have that way. If you use the 'name/URL' option, I'm not sure what to suggest as I don't use that option *shrug*

      Unfortunately for JK and her twitter comments, she has become VERY well known, and not in a good way, in more recent times. We've even had people questioning our decision to stock her latest Galbraith book given her transphobic tweets. As with American Dirt, we've had to clarify our policy that we do not tell people what they can or can't read and we are not in the business of banning books! We're in the business of open discussion and letting people make up their own minds! I really cannot believe that there are groups seriously suggesting we should ban a book - don't they know there history???!!!!!
      Oooops - a little soap box rant - I feel better now :-)

  2. I have also become a Sherlock Holmes' fan recently. Maybe this is what happens when you read the books rather than watch the movies/series. I read 'A Study in Scarlet' some years ago. I think it is not his best, but I really enjoyed the part in Utah, which I considered the best part of the book.
    I recently read 'Sherlock Holmes Adventures' which I bought at the museum on Baker Street in London. Many novellas there which I found very good. I was also a little bit impressed by Doyle's writing which I found rather flourishing. I don't know why I always thought it was dry. Once again...influenced by movies/series?

    1. So glad to know I have plenty of Sherlockian delights ahead of me!

  3. I'm afraid Conan Doyle's portrayal of Utah and Mormons is about as accurate as the average Victorian portrayal of any other foreign minority group -- it's very sensationalized, to say the least. But I like all the other Holmes stories! :)

    1. The brief research I did (wikipedia) said that the Danite vigilante group did exist, but that there is no evidence of it after 1838. By 1888, when Doyle wrote this story, his information was fifty years out of date. But many an author (or president) has never let a little detail like factual accuracy get in the way of a good story!

  4. This isn't my favorite Holmes story but it does seem to be a reasonable entry point (and not just because it's the first one). I read all of the stories in chronological order (of collection publication, which is not quite the same as story timeline, apparently) over a period of a few years and quite enjoyed it--you have some solid stories to look forward to. Enjoy!

    1. I'm really looking forward to my Holmes/Doyle journey. I read The Tragedy of the Korosko a few years back, which showed me that I enjoyed his writing style, but I was a little nervous about a detective series for some reason. Too dry or pedantic or something? So glad I was wrong!

  5. I have enjoyed the Holmes stories many times since I was in my teens, this one I enjoyed but I think my favourite has to be either The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Speckled Band or The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. I don’t think there is a bad one amongst them.

    1. Delighted to hear that Heather! I have years of Sherlock Holmes pleasure ahead of me :-)

  6. Great review! Glad you liked it. 🙂

  7. So glad you enjoyed it, and you do indeed have many treats in store! I fear I must disagree about his name though. Conan Doyle started to use Conan as part of his surname when he was quite young, and continued to do so until he died. His son, Adrian Conan Doyle, always referred to his father as Conan Doyle, and uses Conan as part of his own surname. Technically it may count as a middle name, but since we can all choose what we want to be called, I feel we should respect what he chose to call himself. It's only very recently, within the last thirty years or so, that some modern critics have arbitrarily decided to drop the Conan from his name, which seems to me highly discourteous. Haha, sorry for the lecture, but it totally annoys me! 😉

    1. Thanks for the heads up!
      I only read the Wikipedia page and it certainly takes the view that he was a little ditzy thanks to his dalliance with spritualism, fairies etc. There was a decided mocking tone that I noted at the time, but didn't look into any further. Now I'm curious - not only about Conan Doyle's childhood - but also about the reasons why recent critics would find it necessary to mock someone who was obviously a great writer of his time.

    2. PS Can you recommend a bio or website that I should check out?

  8. So glad you enjoyed your first foray into the world of Holmes & Watson!


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.