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Title: A Study in Scarlet
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Author: Arthur Doyle
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
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.
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.