Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet is the first novel in the famous Sherlock Holmes series. It is narrated from the perspective of Dr. John Watson, a doctor who served during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. After getting wounded in the war, he moves back to London and is in search of a place to stay. Watson meets his friend Stamford at a bar, who happens to have an acquaintance—Sherlock Holmes—looking for someone to split the rent of a flat. Upon meeting each other, the two discuss their idiosyncrasies and ultimately resolve to live together. Watson grows curious about Holmes’ life and discovers that Holmes has a vast knowledge of chemistry and sensational literature, but he has little to no knowledge regarding philosophy and astronomy. Holmes explains that he is a consulting detective and laments that there have been no cases for him to solve recently. He shows off his deductive skills by correctly guessing that a visiting messenger is a retired sergeant of the Marines, based solely on his tattoo and facial hair length. The messenger drops off a letter which informs Holmes of a murder that occurred the previous night. Holmes will attempt to utilize all of the evidence that he can find, including a woman’s wedding ring, the German word rache spelled out in blood, footprints, a bottle of pills, ashes, and paint chips in the wall, in order to solve this story of revenge that has its origins in the vast American desert.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s decision to have Watson serve as the peripheral narrator is highly effective. Even though Sherlock Holmes is the central protagonist, the reader is unable to see Holmes’ thought process and how he arrives at his sometimes seemingly random deductions, creating an air of mystery and adding to Holmes’ eccentricity. This element of suspense allows readers to predict what will happen next based off of the clues presented, making reading more of an interactive experience. Watson is much less eccentric, making him more relatable to most readers and a more effective narrator. Doyle is deliberate in all of the choices he makes in the story, as minute details he includes often have bigger significance later on in the story, serving to create an elaborate plot. The language used is reflective of the language spoken in 19th century England, which serves to establish a fully immersive setting. Anyone who enjoys the mystery genre, solving puzzles, or British culture should read A Study in Scarlet.