Monday, September 30, 2013

A Study in Scarlet

Sherlock Holmes.  One of the most recognizable names in literary history.  Even if you've never encountered one of his original stories, you are familiar with the idea of him.  He is the quintessential detective, the ideal of all sleuthdom.  He evokes thoughts of magnifying glasses and funny hats and brilliant deductions.  He has been the source of movies, plays, and last but not least - more than one TV series. 

I freely admit that I am an enormous fan of the BBC show Sherlock.  I have always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, although until recently, I had never read one of the original novels or short stories.  When I was in grade school, I got hooked on a series of abridged Holmes novels, so I was familiar with the storylines, but I had never actually read the real thing.  One night while staying up late working on a project, I turned on PBS, and The Reichenbach Fall was playing.  A few minutes in and I was HOOKED.  Not only because of Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones either, although that didn't hurt.  It was so cleverly written, and the character of Sherlock Holmes captured me as it has captured millions of people since the nineteenth century when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first brought him into our lives and hearts.  As I researched my new favorite show (because that's what I do, I research for fun), I discovered that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatniss, the creators of the show, had desired to bring Sherlock to life in the modern era, using the same themes and concepts as the original stories but giving them a modern flavor.  Who would Sherlock Holmes be if he lived now instead of then?  And thus a phenomenal show was born. 

Still, as much I as loved the show, I hadn't read any of the books...and then I got a Kindle Fire for my birthday.

With free and 99 cent books. 

Including - wait for it - The Complete Sherlock Holmes

And now, as so many before me have been...I am hooked. 

My first venture into Sherlock Holmes was A Study in Scarlet, which is the first of four SH novels written by Doyle.  I have seen its counterpart, A Study in Pink, numerous times, and I was blown away by how loyal the writers of Sherlock were to the original story.   The writers of Sherlock are absolutely brilliant.

But not as brilliant as the man himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Doyle weaves a tale that gives you just enough information to keep you turning to the next page in desperation.  Halfway through the story, it veers completely away from the subject matter, and just about the time you are about to get bored and give up, there it is - the thread that winds two stories together to make it one fantastic story of murder, mystery, love and revenge.  I read the whole thing in about 3 hours.  I propped up my Kindle on the spice rack while I cooked - it's a miracle I didn't burn dinner! (Or break my Kindle.)   The next novel in my downloads is The Sign of the Four, and I can't wait to jump in and read away. 

One troubling problem did arise as I read the novel, and that was Doyle's depictions of certain people groups.  No, I do not condone the depiction of Mormonism in the book.  Nor did I appreciate his reference to his "Arabs."  As I go through these novels, I am sure I will find other antiquated opinions of people groups, things you would never find in a novel today.    I believe mature readers can look beyond the viewpoints people held over a century ago in another time and culture and cut through that to see the story for what it is - flawed, to be sure, with such references, but a timeless tale nonetheless, and one that can still be enjoyed.  Such opinions and views are a part of our history, and instead of pretending they never existed, let's accept how far we've come and allow for the fact that good literature can still be good literature, even if Doyle was using prejudices common in his day.  It doesn't make it all right, but it doesn't mean we have throw the whole book out the window either.

Sherlock Holmes is timeless.  The stories touch that part of us that longs for adventure and mystery.  Everyone loves a "a-ha!" moment, and Holmes lives his life depending on those moments like a drug.  Trying to keep up with Holmes' mind is like a great game, and for over 100 years, he has enthralled us with his cunning and deductions. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Just got The Complete Novels of Jane Austen in the mail via
2. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
3. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan

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