I've been wanting to read a Sherlock Holmes book for a while now, and after watching Sherlock (BBC) and Sherlock Holmes (Hollywood), I figured I should get to it. So I started at the beginning, with A Study in Scarlet (1886).
I was suprised by how easy this book was to read. I found myself comparing the prose to that of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which was published only 16 before ASiS. If you have ever heard me talk about 20,000 Leagues, you know my opinion of this work, permanently dubbed The Fish Directory in my memory - it is DULL. But ASiS is fast-moving, includes just enough detail for the purposes of the story and to introduce the characters that we all know - Holmes, Watson, the slightly hopeless police detective/s that take all the credit. This surprised me, as I was expecting long, drawn-out descriptions of the minutiae of the murder scene and Shakespearean soliloquies exposing the identity of the murderer. This was so refreshing, compared to my (admittedly limited) experience with other classics, and showed great restraint on the part of the author.
Another surprise came in part two of the book, which tells the story of a man and a young girl stranded in a desert in the US. It took me a very long time to work out how this fit into the original plot, which either says something about my inability to see things coming, or about the author's ability to surprise the reader even in as straightforward a case as Sherlock deems this to be. I also liked the application of scientific techniques to the investigation of crime (no surprises there!), something that at the time would have been virtually unheard of. As Holmes and Watson meet, Holmes has just invented a liquid that reacts only when in blood is present - information that is still vitally important in criminal investigations today.
I don't think any further spoilers are necessary for this review, but I will say this: I recommend this book to anyone who is entertained by the Sherlock Holmes stories, or anyone interested in an easy introduction to the classics. However, those looking for a story similar to those of modern-day crime writers may need to set some expectations aside - there is very little that could be called 'gruesome detail' to be found here.
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