Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional characters. I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes pretty early on and have watched countless adaptations of his stories in Hindi and English on TV. What I had not read was the four novels of Sherlock Holmes. A Study in Scarlet, the first novel on Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic read. That it can deliver this kind of experience to me, despite so much exposure to Holmes in media, is nothing short of astounding.
A Study in Scarlet is where it all begins. The story, as always, is narrated by Dr. Watson. He has returned to London physically injured and mentally traumatized from the British war in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Looking for a roommate to split the rent, he is introduced to Holmes, who seems to have no higher education degree, but spends his time in the London University labs playing with chemicals and in morgues dissecting bodies. The two discuss their living styles and eccentricities, find them agreeable, discover a flat at 221B Baker Street and move in. Watson is jobless, living off his war pension and is pretty soon hooked by Holmes’ method of deduction. They are soon drawn into a strange crime where a dead body is found in an empty house and there is no bloodshed. This is a classic Holmes setup and the ensuing investigative ride is just as juicy as you can expect.
The book takes a surprising detour in the second half. Describing the back story of the murderer, it takes the reader to America in the 1800s. After their founder Joseph Smith is assassinated, the Mormons led by Brigham Young move from Illinois and settle down in Utah. They practice polygamy, work hard and develop Salt Lake City. However, Young turns out to be a tyrant with the religion’s rules and deals with offenders with an iron fist. One such act breaks apart a love and that links back to the murder in London. I think this half of the book might baffle many readers, however I found it interesting to read such a detailed slice of Mormon history.
A Study in Scarlet is a must-read for any Holmes fan. And if you are not one, its a great way to get introduced. Arthur Conan Doyle bakes a fantastic pair of characters in Holmes and Watson. The writing is exquisite, full of historical events, scientific details and intrigue. This is a novel that should be read and enjoyed.