Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Study in Scarlet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is a book I have been considering reading for a long time. I worried that it would be overly verbose (being written over a century ago) and somewhat outdated. It was a great relief then to find out that this is a novel that has aged brilliantly, outdated terminology aside. Compared to others of his time, Conan Doyle's narratives tend to speed along at a fast pace which (for me) is essential in this sort of murder story in order to keep the reader interested in the plot as it unfolds. Also, while it is something the author cannot have foreseen, the first person style in which it is written provides a wonderful insight into life in the nineteenth century. The hustle and bustle of the busy London streets during the daytime, and the silence of the night is excellently captured.

 I am confident in saying that Sherlock Holmes in one of the greatest characters in the history of literature. From his quirky mannerisms to his immense intelligence (and occasional comedic lack thereof) he is intensely likeable. It is no exaggeration when I say that he improves very scene he is in. It is here, I think, that Conan Doyle made his greatest mistake.

 The novel is divided into two major sections, the first dealing with the solving of the murder case. Holmes is prevalent in this portion, and it makes for brilliant entertainment. The latter section deals with the back story of the murderer, and it is here that I feel the book loses steam. The pace slows down to a halt as we are introduced to an entirely new cast of characters, most of whom are significantly less interesting than Sherlock and Co. (Holmes is entirely absent for these chapters). A grumpy elderly man and his stereotypically attractive daughter are no substitute for the crime-solving sleuth.

 I feel that the entire second half of the book would have been better off as a single chapter, or spread out throughout the narrative. It is effectively a large exposition dump at the end of the story, and while it does pay of in making the murderer feel more three-dimensional I am left wondering if reading it was worth the effort. It is a Sherlock Holmes novel without Sherlock Holmes, and not in the positive sense (see "The Hound of the Baskervilles"). There is no other way to describe it, in my opinion the second half of "A Study in Scarlet" is boring.

 A Study in Scarlet is a book of two (literal) halves. The murder case is everything a crime novel should be; engaging, surprising and genuinely entertaining- a proper classic. The murderer's back story is anything but, although to be fair I do feel that the good outshines the not-so-good. I would still absolutely recommend this book to anyone even vaguely interested in crime, drama, or good novels in general. Just forget the second half!

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