‘A Study in Scarlet & The Sign of the Four’

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

IBN: 978 1 84022 411 5

Published: 2004 (this edition)

I’m returning to reviewing books after a lovely holiday in Italy, and what better way to start than with another British classic? This was my first time reading any of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and I opted for a two-in-one novel featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s first and second stories. My previous experience of Sherlock amounted to being an avid viewer of the BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch, so it was interesting to see how faithful the TV show is to the original books. 

‘A Study in Scarlet’

One of the first things I decided about this book was that I liked Doctor Watson’s narration. It was this narrative that created a strong sense of intrigue about the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes. Said appearance was not disappointing! I took to the character instantly and particularly liked the way the detective is portrayed as being in his own little bubble. He is most definitely never boring! Certain comments, such as Watson being amazed that Sherlock does not know the planets orbit the sun, make references to the books within the television show make much more sense. The origins of several characters are also explained. It would be more than possible to dedicate a full blog post to comparing the BBC series to the original novels! Like the TV series, the books are often incredibly witty. The dialogue is fantastic, continually portraying Sherlock’s ‘tortured genius’. It is one of the many reasons the book is a quick read and is considered the 1800s’ version of popular fiction. The first half of the book is definitely better than the second, which becomes slightly monotonous due to the absence of Sherlock. The second half of the book evolves into a strange slice of American history, revolving around the Mormons, that readers neither ask for nor want for. That being said, it does provide a ‘warts and all’ view of members of the religion, accompanied by stunning descriptions of the American wilderness. This section of the novel serves its purpose as a way of  telling us the background of the murderer, since every Holmes story is essentially a mystery. As for the actual murder, one can sympathise with the killer because of the impressive backstory Conan Doyle builds. The aneurism was a particularly nice touch! 

Rating: **** (4/5)

‘The Sign of the Four’

Reading the second Holmes story, it soon becomes apparent that new aspects of the detective’s character will be constantly revealed. I enjoyed this unpredictability and the way Sherlock continually refuses to be fazed by those around him. One particularly interesting piece of information is that he is actually a drug addict. His deductions are, as ever, fascinating to read. One gets the sense Doyle had grown more confident in writing them by the time his second novel was completed. The only complaint I have about the style of the novel would be that I found myself losing interest during some overly wordy passages. I also found that the actual case wasn’t as interesting as the one used in the television adaptation of this particular story, although Mary Morstan was much less irritating than her TV counterpart. I definitely found myself more interested in the characters than the story. By the time it reached its conclusion, I was left feeling quite sorry for Sherlock as he really doesn’t get much from the case. This story will definitely appeal to fans of the TV show who find themselves empathising with Sherlock!

Rating: *** (3/5)


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