A Study in Scarlet ★★★✬☆

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Title: A Study in Scarlet
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Author: Arthur Doyle
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 150
Words: 43K


From Wikipedia.org

Part I: The Reminiscences of Watson

In 1881, Doctor John Watson has returned to London after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. He is looking for a place to live, and an old friend tells him that Sherlock Holmes is looking for someone to split the rent at a flat at 221B Baker Street but cautions Watson about Holmes’s eccentricities. Holmes and Watson meet, and after assessing each other and the rooms, they move in. Holmes reveals that he is a “consulting detective” and that his frequent guests are clients. After a demonstration of Holmes’s deductive skills, Watson’s disbelief turns into astonishment.

A telegram requests a consultation in a murder case. Watson accompanies Holmes to the crime scene, an abandoned house on Brixton Road. Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade are already on the scene. The victim is identified as Enoch Drebber, and documents found on his person reveal that he has a secretary, Joseph Stangerson. On one wall, written in red, is “RACHE” (German for “revenge”), which Holmes dismisses as a ploy to fool the police. He deduces that the victim died from poison and supplies a description of the murderer. Upon moving Drebber’s body, they discover a woman’s gold wedding ring.

Holmes places notices in several newspapers about the ring and buys a facsimile of it, hoping to draw the murderer – who has apparently already tried to retrieve the ring – out of hiding. An old woman answers the advertisement, claiming that the ring belongs to her daughter. Holmes gives her the duplicate and follows her, but she evades him. This leads Holmes to believe that she was an accomplice, or perhaps the actual murderer in disguise.

A day later, Gregson visits Holmes and Watson, telling them that he has arrested a suspect. He had gone to Madame Charpentier’s Boarding House where Drebber and Stangerson had stayed before the murder. He learned from her that Drebber, a drunk, had attempted to kiss Mrs. Charpentier’s daughter, Alice, which caused their immediate eviction. Drebber, however, came back later that night and attempted to grab Alice, prompting her older brother to attack him. He attempted to chase Drebber with a cudgel but claimed to have lost sight of him. Gregson has him in custody on this circumstantial evidence.

Lestrade then arrives and reveals that Stangerson has been murdered. His body was found near his hotel window, stabbed through the heart; above it was written “RACHE”. The only things Stangerson had with him were a novel, a pipe, a telegram saying “J.H. is in Europe”, and a small box containing two pills. Holmes tests the pills on an old and sickly Scottish terrier in residence at Baker Street. The first pill produces no evident effect, but the second kills the terrier. Holmes deduces that one was harmless and the other poison.

Just at that moment, a very young street urchin named Wiggins arrives. He is the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of street children Holmes employs to help him occasionally. Wiggins states that he’s summoned the cab Holmes wanted. Holmes sends him down to fetch the cabby, claiming to need help with his luggage. When the cabby comes upstairs and bends for the trunk, Holmes handcuffs and restrains him. He then announces the captive cabby as Jefferson Hope, the murderer of Drebber and Stangerson.

Part II: “The Country of the Saints”

The story flashes back to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah in 1847, where John Ferrier and a little girl named Lucy, the only survivors of a small party of pioneers, are rescued from death by a large party of Latter-day Saints led by Brigham Young, but only on the condition that they adopt and live under the Mormon faith. Years later, a now-grown Lucy befriends and falls in love with a man named Jefferson Hope. However, Young forbids her from marrying outside the faith, and demands that she marry either Joseph Stangerson or Enoch Drebber, both sons of members of the church’s Council of Four. Ferrier, who has adopted Lucy and sworn to never marry his daughter to a Mormon, immediately sends word to Hope.

Lucy is given one month to choose between her suitors. Hope finally arrives on the eve of the last day and they all escape under cover of darkness. The Mormons intercept the escapees while Hope is away hunting, as their food had run out. Ferrier is killed while Lucy is forcibly married to Drebber and dies a month later from a broken heart. Hope breaks into Drebber’s house the night before Lucy’s funeral to kiss her body and remove her wedding ring. He swears vengeance on Drebber and Stangerson, but he begins to suffer from an aortic aneurysm, causing him to leave the mountains to earn money and recuperate. When he returns several years later, he learns that Drebber and Stangerson have fled Salt Lake City after a schism between the Mormons. Hope pursues them, eventually tracking them to Cleveland, then to Europe.

In London, Hope becomes a cabby and eventually finds Drebber and Stangerson. After the altercation with Madame Charpentier’s son, Drebber gets into Hope’s cab and spends several hours drinking. Eventually, Hope takes him to the house on Brixton Road, where Hope forces Drebber to recognize him and to choose between two pills, one of which is harmless and the other poison. Drebber takes the poisoned pill, and as he dies, Hope shows him Lucy’s wedding ring. The excitement coupled with his aneurysm causes his nose to bleed; he uses the blood to write “RACHE” on the wall above Drebber to confound the investigators. Stangerson, on learning of Drebber’s murder, refuses to leave his hotel room. Hope climbs in through the window and gives Stangerson the same choice of pills, but he is attacked and nearly strangled by Stangerson and forced to stab him in the heart.

Hope dies from his aneurysm the night before he is to appear in court. Holmes reveals to Watson how he had deduced the identity of the murderer, then shows Watson the newspaper; Lestrade and Gregson are given full credit. Outraged, Watson states that Holmes should record the adventure and publish it. Upon Holmes’s refusal, Watson decides to do it himself.

My Thoughts:

Back in the 90’s I’m 99% (see what I did there? Clever eh?) sure I read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon by Doyle. Fast forward a decade and I realized I didn’t have them reviewed and so began a desultory read through that lasted for all of 5 years and 4 books. I hadn’t begun my Reading Rotation yet and so everything was hit and miss. Well, fast forward to now and the Iron Fist of Bookstooge has set its sights on Sherlock.

Of course, I can’t really take all the credit. Dave started a Sundays with Sherlock series of posts back in late ’19 and that’s what actually got me thinking about Sherlock again. It’s just taken me this long to actually DO something about it 😀

This was written with the intention of introducing Holmes and Watson and as such, it does a very creditable job at it. The first part of the story is all from Watson’s view and sets the tone for the series as Watson as sidekick and observer. Holmes is actually pretty “normal” and while not playing a small part, plays a smaller part than I was expecting.

The shift of tone and narration in the second part was a bit jarring. There is no reason given for the abrupt change or lead in to help us know why we’re suddenly changing venues. It is not until part way through that we (ie, I) realize this is the backstory of the murderer and is setting up all of the reasons for him doing what has been chronicled so far. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the Mormons but if you know your history you’ll also know they don’t HAVE a pretty picture for a past. My personal experience with Mormons has been almost exclusively limited to those who have gotten out of that cult and their stories about the fear and coercion used to try to get them back are pretty scary. The only good thing I can say about them is that they have produced a pretty good crop of SFF writers like Timothy Zahn, Larry Correia and Orson Card. There might be more authors I enjoy who are also mormons that I don’t know about.

Once it is made evident why this backstory is being shown and why the murderer is doing what he’s doing, he moves out of the Monster in the Shadows territory to Sympathetic Character Taking Justice Into His Own Hands.

This was a good read and I am looking forward to the rest of the Sherlock Canon over the coming months and years. Whether he is or not, I consider Sherlock to be the foundation of the Mystery Genre and as such want to get it under my belt (much like my Shakespeare reads). These stories have stood the test of time and I think I am richer for reading them.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

54 thoughts on “A Study in Scarlet ★★★✬☆

    1. I am not familiar with the term “capped up”. I am assuming that phrase is analogous to “capped” though.
      Considering the mormons tried to setup their own country back in the day, and controlled the state of Utah to the point where the federal government had almost zero jurisdiction, they were a real threat in Doyle’s day.
      They’ve mellowed out as an organization though, but they still operate as the iron fist in the velvet glove to those members who try to leave.

      I think Doyle got up because he had bills to pay. Much like most of people today….


      1. I watched a few episodes but I never really became a fan.

        I did however quite like Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. I was a a bit hesitant since they made Watson a woman but it did work.

        They didn’t just slap in a woman as Doctor Watson because… bla bla… woke rant etc…

        Instead they really made her a different character but one that still fit well in the role as a modern Sherlock Holmes companion, and a competent one as well.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. No, just part of my reading rotation, which fluctuates between 4-6 weeks. I am going to be watching the BBC version of Sherlock (season 1 anyway) for May, so if you want to join in, email me at my proton email address and we can go from there.


    1. I have this friday off (several drs appointments) so I am hoping to watch the final episode and get a post scheduled for may 22. Once I’m done I’ll email you the link like I have for the others.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I liked the Downey Jr ones. I watched both of them and quite enjoyed them.
      Not sure if I’ve actually seen a whole Sherlock movie with some of the older actors. Seen clips but can’t remember a whole movie.

      Are you going to end up going through the entire set of Wolfe again? What will you do once you’ve finished?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I’m currently on Book 24 for the second time and fully intending to go through the entire set again. When I’ve finished I’ll probably start again as on the second reading I’m noticing things worth writing down, but haven’t due to reading at work or in bed, so the third reading will be a more deliberated reading and take longer. Ok I’m obsessed. This is your fault. 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s fine Booky, it’s a benign obsession. And I’m not the only one, you should read the introductions by other authors and what-nots, if you have them in your copies (mine are all kindle hobbies) there’s a lot of hooked on Wolfe books people out there. Alex has monkeys????

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yeah, I’ve been skipping the introductions because they either spoil the story or enrage me with the intro authors self-centred hubris. sounds like I’ve been making the right choice all along.

              I cannot tell a lie, I made that up. It sounds good though, doesn’t it? Dr Alex and his barrel of traveling monkeys, on tour for 3 days only!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Aw some of them are alright, and on second reading they don’t spoil the story but I get what you mean.
                I like how you’ve made Alex a Dr now, of what though I am not certain, but yep I’d pay a quid to see the travelling monkeys 🤣

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Weeeeeeelllll, a couple of classics here and there would round out your experience. I read a couple of Bond books back in highschool but never tried after that. Christie was hit and miss so once I read a couple that I liked I called it quits. And as you can see, I’m going through all of Sherlock (6 or 7 books I think).

      Take a break from those depressing doorstoppers and breathe in some murder and mayhem, lighten the day up 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, he’s part of the Mormon church. He’s at odds with some of their social issues, so I don’t know what exactly his relationship is.

      Sadly, he’s off my favorite list. I just found out this morning that the final Alcatraz book is going to be co-authored and the POV will be Bastille instead of Alcatraz. So I’m not bothering with my re-read now 😦
      That made for a miserable start to the day…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh no 😣 that’s a real bummer. I’ve read two of the co-authored skyward novellas and they really didn’t work for me. Might be the same person who wrote Alcatraz…?

        Oh yeah, I was quite surprised when I heard he was Mormon. He just didn’t fit the image I have of them. So it makes sense he is somewhat at odds with it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yep, same co-author 😦

          In the couple of interviews I was part of with him, in a group setting, he was pretty up front about it. He talked about his 2 year mission trip and everything.
          But when I was friends with him on facebook he wrote some pretty liberal things so I knew right off he wasn’t in the same camp as Orson Scott Card or anything.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. I think Doyle got up because he had bills to pay. Much like most of people today….

    Legend has it the first two novels had lacklustre sales, so when Doyle heard how a new magazine was being launched – The Strand – he went and pitched the idea of a serial character, making history in the process.* I think he was onto something, inasmuch as I think maybe Holmes & Watson actually work better in a shorter format? I mean, look at how a big chunk of Study in Scarlet is devoted to Mormon skulduggery (as opposed to Holmes & Watson). Valley of Fear is another case in point – at least, as far as I can recall.

    * He was getting a massive amount of money per story towards the end. Like the price of a small house.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My memory would seem to agree with you that the short story format works better than the full length novel. That is one thing I am hoping to confirm or deny on this journey.

      I wish I could get paid that much. I think I might bring it up next time I see my boss 😀 I’m sure it will go over great!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhh, look at you being so clever! 😉

      I’ve often wondered how international Holmes is and between me, SavageDave and you, I guess he’s been read the world over.


    1. Yeah, this was a great way to introduce Holmes and Watson. Just enough backstory to make them people without boring the ever living daylights out of me with a bajillion useless and trivial data points 😀

      Have you read the entire series?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know I liked Holmes in my younger years, so I am hoping I will enjoy him even more now. Especially considering how the mystery genre doesn’t seem to be working out so well for me with the exception of Rex Stout and his character Nero Wolfe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciate A Study in Scarlet as a groundbreaking novel, so it will always get a full complement of stars from me ;). I still am really impressed how modern Doyle’s perspective is in those stories and how he can twist the idea of perpetrator and victim around 😉 I like the dry prose, too, and actually enjoyed A Study in Scarlet much more than The Sign of Four. I think I love the short stories the most, though!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been going through all of Doyle’s Holmes stories, as well. I’ve made it through all but the final anthology. Of what I’ve read this was likely my least favorite book, probably because of that mid-book flip to a completely different location, different characters, and different story, just as you mentioned. And though it brought it all back together in the end it didn’t work that well for me. I felt it was ok, but also a bit disappointing. Overall, I think I’ve much preferred his short stories over his novels.

    As for Mormons I always find it interesting hearing views like you’ve expressed. I wasn’t born into that church but my family joined when I was younger and we moved around a lot so I got to see Mormons in many cities, states and a couple countries. Much later, as an adult, I left realizing organized religion just wasn’t for me. But it never struck me as a cult and I’ve never seen or experienced anything like what you’ve described. I don’t doubt others might have, and I wonder if perhaps some of what you’ve heard is from folks much closer to Utah or in smaller communities or even from one of the fundamentalist groups that broke off from them. I cetainly agree there is some questionable history in their past, but I suppose the same can be said of many religions (Roman Inquisition, etc, etc). It’s always struck me that some of the best and worst of humanity has come from religion, or at least the name of religion. Anyway, sorry for the longer tangent than I’d planned. 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the rest of the Holmes stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Todd,
      Thanks for leaving such a lengthy comment. I love it when a post does that to someone 😀

      I too remember the short story working better and I’m hoping my memory is correct, as on this journey I’m plowing through it all and I want to enjoy it!

      So for the mormon thing. I know two people who escaped (their words and from their experience, that is the correct word). I also know an SDA pastor who would regularly visit a mormon church to see how they did the social side of things (he was the kind of person who wanted women ordained as pastors in the SDA church and for practicing homosexuals to be members and take Communion, so that tells you where he stood on the spectrum (extra liberal)). I also have interacted with mormons on line who I think we all would define as “normal”.
      Mormons are called a cult because they claim to be Christian but have ideas that are extra-Biblical and contradict what the majority of Christians accept as a crede. Without getting deep, while they will use Christian language but what they mean is completely foreign to the original meaning. They are also labeled a cult because they say that Joseph Smith had the authority to supercede the Bible, thus placing himself above God. Anytime a human claims to have authority greater than what the Bible states, Christendom as a whole labels that a cult.

      It’s interesting that you mention the Roman Inquisition, mainly because that’s the one everyone pointing at Christians talks about. But I believe they killed less than 10,000 people AND the catholic church has admitted they were in error in that period (in that they don’t believe they should have done those things.) Now, take communism. Untold MILLIONS have been killed by that anti-religious idea but no one brings up the atrocities committed by the non-religious. Not trying to slam you or anything, but if you look at the numbers, the anti-religious have killed far, far, FAR more than any organized religious organization.

      See, when you leave a lengthy comment there’s always the danger that I’ll reply in kind 😉

      I hope you enjoy any further Sherlock reviews too!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No worries. We’ve lived different lives, seen different things, and interacted with differnet people, so while I disagree with your interpretation and understanding of some things that doesn’t mean I can’t also respect your views. And while I admit the Roman Inquisition was the low hanging fruit being the easiest to remember, there are plenty of other examples throughout history with many different religions, though my intent was certianly not to say religion is bad or even that it held any kind of record at killing people, especially since I mentioned that as simply one example of another religion with some questionable history in their past, not as an example that religion is worse than non-religion. My intent was just what I said, that “some of the best and worst of humanity has come from religion, or at least the name of religion,” though I should have added, “in my opinion.” You did a good job running with the negative side of my phrase, but please don’t forget the positive side of it as I was serious about that part, too. 🙂 Some of the best of humanity has also come from religions of all kinds (feeding the poor, counseling people, giving hope, etc).

        As for Sherlock, I’ll keep my eyes out for any more reviews. I seem to recall another Sherlock novel that had a similar structure to this one and that also didn’t work as well for me for the same reason, that whole halfway through flip. But the short stories, yup, I really enjoyed those. So I was pleased to see most of his stories were in the form of short stories.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You “said” good and bad, but only mentioned the bad, hence my focus on that.

          I think Hound of the Baskervilles is a novel and so is Valley of Fear. I think Valley of Fear follows the same path as this, in that I vaguely remember something about treasure or India or prison or something. But there is an extended flashback, I’m pretty sure. But not 100% 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I did a poor job getting across my thoughts, and my examples seem to have gotten mixed up, so I apologize for that. None of what I wrote was intended as religion bashing.

            I think you’re right, it was Valley of Fear that didn’t work as well for me. I did very much enjoy Hound of the Baskervilles, so that was the novel I thought stood above the rest. I could see myself rereading that one again one day.

            Liked by 2 people

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