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A Study in Scarlet (1887)
Arthur Conan Doyle
Penguin Classics, 192pp

So we come to another classic of its genre that I’d never read: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I’d seen the films, the TV versions – including the just brilliant new BBC version, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I was once given the complete collection by my grandparents when I was ten, but the sheer size of the volume put me off. And it didn’t have spaceships on the cover. If only I’d known what they did contain.

Like Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes really needs to be read when you’re a kid: it’s plotlines, and dramatic action are juvenile – brilliant, yes, but juvenile – and I think you respond more to them when you haven’t the critical faculties of age. Take this story: the first half is about Holmes, but the second leaves London entirely, and crosses the Atlantic to Utah, and a story about Mormons – that happens, at the end, to coincide with the Holmes tale. Of course, at the time, Conan Doyle had no idea that his character would become such a success, but it strikes us now that leaving Holmes out of most of his story is something of a mistake.

All this is not to say I didn’t enjoy A Study in Scarlet – I did, it’s fun, action packed, and has some very good detective work from Sherlock. I just don’t think it’s the great beginning some had made it out to be: but Holmes status is about to increase, and the tales are about to get bloodier, messier, and more complex, and that’s what Holmes does best.

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