Like many people I had managed to absorb most of the Sherlock Holmes canon through popular media - television with Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and movies with Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr. As such, I feel like I already know all the stories, the characters, the personality flaws and the arch-nemeses. Yet, I'd managed all of this without, apparently, ever having read any of the original stories. An even worse failing, as I have a Folio Society collection of some of the stories laying unread in my to-read pile for over ten years. It seemed about time to make a start with Holmes, and the best place to start is at the beginning, with the first novel: A Study in Scarlet
The origin of the Holmes/Watson bromance, the story is told from Watson's point-of-view. Watson, returning from the war in Afganistan, needs a room mate and meets an old friend who tells him of a friend, Holmes, who wants a room mate too. And so begins the partnership. Holmes providing all the detectioning, all the sarcasm, all the rampant superiority (and all the drugs); Watson providing the everyman, the documentation, the questions we would ask if we were there and the spark to take Holmes from a detective who solves crimes from his bedroom, with no involvement or credit, to a detective who gets out there, gets involved and, through these stories, the credit for his cases. I was struck by the similarities though to the BBC's A Study in Pink
episode which stuck very close to the origin storylines, if not the rest of the story.
Without providing too many spoilers, a man is found, presumably murdered in an empty house in Brixton. The word 'RACHE' written on the wall in blood. The police think they'll solve the case themselves, but we all know that any case with Holmes involved is going to be too complex, and too fiendish, for the police to solve without help. Strangely, the case itself is solved in, exactly, the first half of the novel. Then suddenly we are transported to Utah, and back in time by a generation, to be given the story that led to the crimes. It feels like an unexpected jolt. Watson is no longer our narrator, instead some unknown overseer provides the story until it catches back up to Holmes big reveal. Unfortunately, it does detract from the usual reveal that is always the right of the smartest detective in any detective novel. It's as if, even in his first novel, Doyle really isn't giving Holmes the respect he deserves. Hopefully, Holmes will have more scope to show off and be superior with a proper reveal in the next story.
For the record, Sherlock Holmes was
Jeremy Brett. Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch are good, but they aren't Brett. Just saying.