#HolmesPeerReading: A STUDY IN SCARLET


Here I am, 120 pages into A STUDY IN SCARLET, and the story has just reached its inevitable conclusion. As a debut story for a fictional character who will go to live on in such a way that his own creator never could have perceived, SCARLET didn't exactly have all the makings that would lead anyone who first read it to believe that Doyle can pen another story starring Holmes and Watson again, but that didn't make it any less engrossing or worth the second read.

Detective work (especially forensic science) has been made to be so fascinating in televised adaptation that I believe the original medium in which it spawned from (the written form) may not be as captivating, considering that the entire thing was set-up in an era lacking the technology of today. But any good detective work is truly a matter of deductive reasoning which Doyle had done his best to capture in his Holmes canon. I've watched the very first CSI show in 2003 just months after I bought my copy of this book, and it was an interesting comparison for me to make that even with the stark contrast between the Victorian era and the advancements of the modern age that help in solving crimes, Holmes stories can definitely hold up their own as a compelling narrative solely because readers (through Watson as a representative) can experience the nuances of deductive reasoning in full force.

To pick up from what I've said in my last twitlonger post, I'll comment first on the groundwork of the mystery/case itself. Anyone who may read this short review and has seen the BBC Sherlock with the pilot A STUDY IN PINK will recognize the elements easily enough. I'll always view this story in the eyes of my thirteen year old self who has never encountered anything like a gritty murder mystery before, but I would be hard pressed not to make comparisons now with the BBC adaptation.

For starters, the murder scene in SCARLET plays out exactly like it did in the show for PINK with a few notable changes. The victim whose corpse Holmes and Watson examined was male as opposed to female, and it was never revealed until later on as part of the first of three twists by the nearing end that the victim had been poisoned. Holmes was accompanied by Watson and two other detectives too, Lestrade and Hopkins, who were in direct competition with one another and therefore are on a race against time as to who can settle this ugly business.

It's interesting to see how the three men tried to work out scenarios as to how the crime played out, but readers can determine already that Holmes was the one who can most potentially untangle the seams of this mystery because of his methods that are unheard of for Scotland Yard; a method he had cultivated over the years and devoted much of the expansion of his knowledge to. Earlier in the story, Watson had enumerated Holmes' strengths and weaknesses as an academic whose expertise can be desultory and sporadic. This had purpose and meaning to the overall process of the events that took place next. In revealing what encompasses Holmes's knowledge, Doyle makes a believable argument as to why this consulting detective had what it takes to solve murders in a fresh and exciting way using real science, which is, of course, the groundwork for forensic studies centuries later.

Without delving too much into it, I would say that I enjoyed reading the version of Lestrade and Hopkins' sleuthing where they each followed different leads. The two of them taking the time to present their cases before Holmes was fun for me to see unfold but not because they were erroneous in their findings (and Holmes inevitably was victorious) but because of how well it informed readers that this was the way police work back in that era was conducted.

Watson had also observed that although Holmes took pride in his prowess, he doesn't mind giving the credit and spotlight to the two other detectives, because recognition and accolades meant that little to him. All he cared about was demonstrating how the crime was committed and how it can be solved so the ones who are responsible can be brought to justice.
The thing about SCARLET is how there is so much more depth to the murder mystery than just uncovering the identity of the killer and bringing him to trial. Doyle had even spent the second part of his novella by employing a flashback concerning the character Jefferson Hope, the perpetrator for the crimes. Here Doyle contextualized and justified why Hope has killed, and therefore made him a sympathetic, almost anti-hero of a tale that's surreptitiously boils down to that of love and vengeance. The motives this murderer has is to avenge what happened to the woman he loves and the methods he employed to get even with the men who had taken away the love of his life were complex and quite symbolic.

Rather than just explicitly killing them, his two victims were given a choice between two pills inside a bottle in which one of them is lethal. It's a roulette of death then, but with pharmaceuticals instead of loaded gun. Hope wanted to taunt these men since they are of religious faith and to force them to gamble their lives by making a fatal choice is agonizing for them, and that makes for the ultimate satisfactory bonus for Hope's vendetta.

The murder mystery in SCARLET was an unconventional one, relying on the trappings of what was supposedly a straightforward plot about killers and their victims but was fleshed out enormously by Doyle by giving the killer a humanizing backstory as opposed to a nefarious one. His so-called victims were the real villains as far as reader perspective is concerned, and so there was a bittersweet pay-off on Jefferson Hope's end when he had taken justice in his own hands and served it best cold. I don't know about you, but that's how I like my justice.

I don't really have any definitive closing thoughts about SCARLET except to say that this had been a great introduction to what will be a celebrated canon for centuries. Watson's deftness in laying out the groundwork that Holmes is this enigmatic figure who can read people and situations with a sharpness unlike anyone has ever done before is what enhanced the Great Detective for me. Doyle deciding to write using Watson as the POV character also made the prose enjoyable especially as the next stories come along.

This is going to sound as an anti-climactic way to end this post, but this is all I could come up with for now on the fly until the next story in the mix which is THE SIGN OF FOUR. I actually really loved this story much more than I did SCARLET. And I'm excited to get into it soon! But first, Airiz will post her own thoughts next about SCARLET before I start on my intro for SIGN. I'm looking forward to what she has to say!


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