A Study in Scarlet is a very special Sherlock Holmes novel for a unique reason – it is the first book or story that mentioned Holmes.
Our Sherlock Holmes made his debut with A Study in Scarlet.
How's the book?
Well, I definitely liked reading it very much – but there is also no doubt that it is not the best Sherlock Holmes novel.
The plot, the mystery, Holmes' deductions are great – but they definitely got better with the other novels and stories.
The first ever version of A Study in Scarlet (Thank you David Friston!)
If you haven't read A Study in Scarlet yet though, here are 3 fascinating reasons for reading it:
And yes, here are my ratings for A Study in Scarlet...
The conclusion: if you haven't read it – please do! It's definitely a lot of fun for any Holmes fan.
Now...off to the mystery! Let's take a peek at exactly what the problem that Sherlock Holmes solves in this novel is...
It all begins when Inspector Gregson approaches Sherlock Holmes to help him with a murder.
This murder has taken place at night at Number 3, Lauriston Gardens, near Brixton road, London.
An illustration of the scene of crime at Lauriston Gardens by Robert Lutz Verlag
The murder is weird – because nothing has been stolen from the dead man. Also, there are no marks to indicate a fight.
To top all of this, the man lies murdered in a house that has been vacant since a long time. And yes...”RACHE” is written with blood on the wall, near the man.
Now, obviously, there are many questions...
Tons of questions of course – and as you read the book, the mystery gets deeper and deeper.
Now come on, I know you've read and seen many such murder mysteries. I mean most of the mysteries in the world start with this kind of a scene, don't they?
What is special about A Study in Scarlet is well... quite simply put – Holmes' deductions. The cool police guys and detectives of today have gadgets that can measure the tiniest detail in the room – but Sherlock Holmes simply had his magnifying glass.
How Sherlock Holmes figures out every single thing that happened before the murder in excruciating detail with nothing but a magnifying glass – is what makes the book awesome.
Nope, I'm not revealing anything else. You need to read it yourself (if you still haven't read it, that is.) ;-)
The moment when Sherlock Holmes meets Dr John Watson is of course supposed to be memorable and it is!
In fact, the first meeting itself is as dramatic as many Holmes stories.
Holmes is right in the middle of an experiment as he meets Watson (by George Hutchinson)
It all begins with Watson searching for an apartment to live in.
When Watson pops the 'looking for lodgings' question to his pal Stamford, this Stamford guy recommends that he get in touch with Sherlock Holmes – because Holmes is also looking to share his rooms with someone.
So Stamford is the guy who introduces the pair that would imprison millions of minds.
The meeting is interesting because when Stamford and Watson enter the laboratory where Holmes is working, here are Holmes' first words:
Sherlock Holmes shouts and runs towards Watson and Stamford with a test tube in hand...
Quite an apt introduction, I'm sure!
I mean when you meet someone for the first time, you expect pleasantries– and not exactly a victory dance! But then, Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes ;-)
Watson, Stamford and Holmes start talking about Holmes' new discovery (with Holmes doing most of the talking) - a test to identify whether a sample is blood or not.
Sherlock Holmes also makes his first deduction ever recorded – he immediately asks Watson if he has been back from Afghanistan.
Poor Stamford has to finally intervene and tell Holmes why he had come there with Watson in the first place.
This leads to an interesting conversation in which Holmes talks about his flaws and asks Watson about his flaws.
I love Sherlock Holmes' honesty – and I guess any dude looking for a room-mate would love it.
Both Holmes and Watson talk about their flaws and here's what Watson says about his flaws...
Holmes and Watson like each other – and there ...
The partnership that would continue to delight us all for a long time :-)
In the beginning, Watson assumes that Sherlock Holmes is a boastful guy who keeps deducing things to impress others without really knowing anything.
Watson isn't completely wrong about Holmes being a tad boastful at times, but he is completely wrong when it comes to thinking that Holmes' deductions are idle fantasies.
I love the moment when Holmes and Watson spot a plainly-dressed guy walking down the street, from their window. Watson wonders what this man might be looking for when Sherlock Holmes says in his characteristic, matter of fact way -
The original image above is by Richard Gutschmidt (1902). Thanks!
Watson is stumped. He asks the man who he is and learns that he is indeed a retired sergeant of Marines.
That's when he finally accepts that his roommate is boastful but definitely awesome, nevertheless.
It's a light-hearted moment – as the chemistry between Holmes and Watson eases up...and I love it.
Out of all Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, this has to have one of the most unexpected solutions ever.
Lestrade and Gregson – the two detectives working on the case are discussing their solutions, when Holmes innocently calls a cabman upstairs to help with the luggage.
I did not in the wildest of my dreams expect that Holmes would handcuff the cabman himself and hand him over in a jiffy. But, that is exactly what Holmes does. The cabman – Jefferson Hope is the murderer.
And yes, the moment the murderer is caught is definitely a fascinating, magical moment!
The ultimate magical moment in A Study in Scarlet! (George Hutchinson)
You know what's so cool about Sherlock Holmes?
Yes, he's got great powers of deduction.
Yes, he boasts about them at times.
But what adds that extra
thrill to many Holmes stories is the fact that Holmes actually unravels
the mystery in such an unexpected and dramatic fashion.
It is that sudden shock that makes Sherlock Holmes endearing and powerful at the same time.
A Study in Scarlet was first published by Ward Lock and Co. in Beeton's Christmas Annual – a sort of magazine - in 1887.
It wasn't called A Study in Scarlet though. It was first published as A Tangled Skein.
Wondering what that means?
It simply means a tangled, knotted thread that is just not getting untangled! A Study in Scarlet by the way, means a study in wickedness or crime. Interesting.
Thanks to 'like-a-texture' from Germany for the cool brick background!
He was paid 25 pounds to sell all rights to the novel to Ward Lock and Co.
How much did 25 pounds mean at that time? They meant the equivalent of around 2400 pounds or around 3700 US dollars today (according to Measuring Worth).
Conan Doyle apparently felt exploited and never worked with Ward Lock and Co. again.
Here's another interesting point: that same Beeton's Christmas Annual (1887) in which A Study in Scarlet first appeared, was sold at Sotheby's for $156000 in 2007.
It is considered to be the most expensive magazine in the world.
An original copy of A Study in Scarlet (published in 1888 and illustrated by Charles Doyle – Arthur's father) , on the other hand, was sold at Sworders recently for $43219.
Wow. How things change, eh?
When Holmes meets Watson for the first time – he's conducting an experiment to find out whether a given sample is blood or not. Does such a test exist? Holmes dismisses a certain Guiacum test calling it clumsy and uncertain.
Is that test real?
Well...first – the Guiacum test. Yes, it is real and was invented in 1861-62 to test for blood. And yes, Holmes is right when he says it has many flaws. In fact it is hardly used to test for blood these days.
Now, the question is – is there such a cool reagent that precipitates haemoglobin and nothing else - as Sherlock Holmes claims?
Nope. So what Holmes said he discovered has not yet been discovered.
We have many tests to detect blood of course – and all of them are better than the Guiacum test – BUT – all are presumptive tests. Presumptive tests tell us that a sample may be blood. Then, you need to conduct other tests to prove conclusively that the sample is surely blood.
Some presumptive tests commonly used are: the Kastle-Meyer test (1901), and the Fluorescein and Luminol tests.
So well – that's the answer: while there are now many better tests, there is no single test to conclusively say, “Yup, this is blood!” - right away – as Sherlock Holmes did.
One of the coolest portions of A Study in Scarlet is the one where Watson lists out Sherlock Holmes' knowledge about each subject.
I've condensed that data into an interesting bar graph that you might love.
Take a peek!
As you can see, Sherlock Holmes has literally no knowledge of literature, philosophy and astronomy! He doesn't even know that the earth revolves around the sun!
But then, he knows everything about poisons and he can identify where a certain sample is from by just looking at it and feeling it.
That's focus, indeed.
For starters, the place doesn't exist. In fact, it never did! Doyle invented the place.
But – Brixton Road near which Lauriston Gardens is said to be – does exist in Central London.
A Study in Scarlet does say some controversial things about Mormons – people who today belong to a Church called The Church of the Latter Day Saints.
For instance, Jefferson Hope's girlfriend and her dad are murdered, terribly strict rules are enforced and not following those rules is punished by death.
The head of the Mormon sect that set up Utah is talked about as being ruthless and there's this murderous group called The Avenging Angels that kills everyone who does not obey the leaders.
Gosh. Was it so bad?
Conan Doyle said in an interview to a newspaper in 1923:
In the same year, Conan Doyle actually thanked the Mormons when he addressed the Salt Lake Latter-day Saint Tabernacle in 1923.
He was introduced by a guy called Levi Young, a descendant of the Mormon leader Young in the story.
Doyle apparently said:
Doyle's daughter later pointed out that her father regretted what he wrote in A Study in Scarlet about the Mormons...
What's my conclusion?
Well, we cannot say anything for sure.
Many people say that the Mormon society in the 1800s was extremely strict and harsh. Some people say - 'No, that's exaggerated!'
The good part is - things are not so now.
If you're a Mormon, I genuinely wish you well.
And yet – I loved the enigmatic way in which Doyle presents the events in A Study in Scarlet...
What, you haven't still read A Study in Scarlet? Do so right away! Read the book for free here...