|First Edition in Annual Cover 1887, from Wikipedia.|
A Study in Scarlet marks the very first appearance of the now-renowned detective, originally published as a novella in 1887. The story introduces Holmes as a strange guy with even stranger habits, ranging from the quintessential violin plucking (I can't even imagine how annoying that would be to live with, Watson) to his somewhat obnoxious tendency to run off mid-sentence, swept into action by his thoughts before he is able to put them into words. A Study in Scarlet also introduces Dr. Watson, who quickly falls in with Holmes as flatmate, friend, and accomplice.
The short novel weighs in at only 121 pages in my edition of the collected Holmes stories, but even at that short length, it really contains two stories in one: first that of a murderer on the streets of London, and then one of love and revenge in Mormon-settled Utah. Despite the seeming disconnect between the two stories (the jump from London to the cliffs of Utah is pretty jarring at first), they are, in fact, intertwined--you just have to be patient enough for the brilliant Sherlock Holmes to get to the explaining bits.
Because that's Sherlock Holmes in a nutshell: master of deductions, discoverer of invisible connections, postponer of explanations. While his explanations and rationales border on the absurd, they are also so simple as to prove perfectly reasonable. We as the reader struggle along just as Watson does, trying to keep up with the inimitable mind of the great consulting detective while he remains a steady three paces ahead of us. When we finally catch up, it is one part I CAN'T BELIEVE IT and one part BUT OF COURSE!
Despite his genius, though, Holmes is also somewhat of a pitiful figure: lonely, distracted, hyper-focused to the point of ignorance (at one point he admits to Watson that he knows nothing of the workings of the solar system, as he did not deem it worthy of his attention). His inability to socialize with those around him is at once a blessing and a curse: it allows him to see what others miss, operating for no motive other than pure knowledge, but it also isolates him from what everyone else experiences.
It is easy to see why the Holmes presented in A Study in Scarlet captivated readers as he did, proving to be a character unique and mysterious enough to leave us longing for more tales of his adventures, despite the rather neat conclusion at which A Study in Scarlet arrives. I know I'm looking forward to the second novella of Holmes and Watson, The Sign of the Four, followed by a re-read of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and other stories in the canon.
You might also like:
Sherlock Holmes, the Complete Novels and Stories Vol I, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore
A Study in Scarlet, ed. by Laurie King & Leslie Klinger