Book Review

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: A Study in ScarletA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Original Title: A Tangled Skein

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Series:  Sherlock Holmes

Publisher: Ward Lock & Co

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Detective Fiction

First Publication: 1887

Language: English

Major Characters: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, Jefferson Hope, Inspector Lestrade, Enoch Drebber, Lucy Ferrier, John Ferrier,  Mrs Hudson, Joseph Stangerson, Tobias Gregson

Setting Place: late 19th century London, American “wild west”

Narration: First person; for some part, third person omniscient


Book Summary: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

“A Study in Scarlet” is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street.

In “A Study in Scarlet” Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.


Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

In A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle introduces his master sleuth to the world, warts and all. Aside from his well-known arrogance and tactlessness, Sherlock Holmes’ other flaws, as well as his odd but impressive knowledge, are cataloged by his astonished new roommate, Dr. Watson.

Sherlock Holmes is clearly a rare bird, and his oddities and eccentricities are as surprising as his formidable powers of detection. The first half of A Study in Scarlet, the most entertaining part of the book, is a finely drawn study of Sherlock Holmes’ character, peculiar habits, and methods for solving crime. Anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this intriguing introduction to the great consulting detective.

“To a great mind, nothing is little” – Sherlock Holmes

The detective’s first documented case is uncommonly violent: two Americans are murdered – one in an empty house, the other in his hotel room; the crime scenes are littered with evidence – a wedding ring, a box of pills, tobacco ash, footprints, and the German word RACHE, scrawled in blood on the walls. Scotland Yard is stymied; Holmes’ services are called upon.

To explain the murders, Doyle flashes back some twenty years to the early Mormon settlement of Utah Territory. The transition from late Victorian London to the great alkali deserts of the North American West is jarring and confusing. Working from prejudiced sources hostile to the Mormons, Doyle sketches a “historical” romance that casts the Saints as bloodthirsty white slavers dominated by the belligerent figure of Brigham Young. Doyle’s tale spirals off on this tangent for few chapters until we are suddenly back in the drawing room of 221B Baker Street, where the mystery is resolved, rehashed, retold, and awkwardly laid to rest.

A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.”

So this is how it all started in 1887 in the pages of an otherwise long-forgotten English magazine called Beeton’s Christmas Annual; this is the starting point of the legendary Holmes-Watson partnership we are all familiar with today. Watson is of course the narrator and Sherlock Holmes is quite possibly one of the most intriguing characters in literary history. It is soon apparent to Watson that Sherlock Holmes is indeed a character of epic proportion, who has profound knowledge of chemistry, geology, botany and a range of other significant subjects; yet knows little about literature, astronomy, philosophy, and politics.

A Study in Scarlet is required reading for any Sherlock Holmes fan. To meet Holmes in all his quirkiness is worth the perplexing, sometimes unsavory slog through the tale’s second half. You can’t help but immerse yourself in Sherlock Holmes and his interaction with every character he meets from Watson to Lestrade and Gregson, Scotland Yard’s finest. The mysteries are intriguing but the characters are simply way more than fascinating.


Facts: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet was first published by Ward Lock and Co. in Beeton’s Christmas Annual – a sort of magazine – in 1887.

It wasn’t called A Study in Scarlet though. It was first published as A Tangled Skein.

Wondering what that means?

It simply means a tangled, knotted thread that is just not getting untangled! A Study in Scarlet by the way, means a study in wickedness or crime. Interesting.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was paid 25 pounds to sell all rights to the novel to Ward Lock and Co.

How much did 25 pounds mean at that time? They meant the equivalent of around 2400 pounds or around 3700 US dollars today (according to Measuring Worth).

Conan Doyle apparently felt exploited and never worked with Ward Lock and Co. again.


Here’s another interesting point: that same Beeton’s Christmas Annual (1887) in which A Study in Scarlet first appeared, was sold at Sotheby’s for $156000 in 2007.

It is considered to be the most expensive magazine in the world.

An original copy of A Study in Scarlet (published in 1888 and illustrated by Charles Doyle – Arthur’s father) , on the other hand, was sold at Sworders recently for $43219.


When Holmes meets Watson for the first time – he’s conducting an experiment to find out whether a given sample is blood or not. Does such a test exist? Holmes dismisses a certain Guiacum test calling it clumsy and uncertain.

Is that test real?

Well…first – the Guiacum test. Yes, it is real and was invented in 1861-62 to test for blood. And yes, Holmes is right when he says it has many flaws. In fact it is hardly used to test for blood these days.

Now, the question is – is there such a cool reagent that precipitates haemoglobin and nothing else – as Sherlock Holmes claims?

Nope. So what Holmes said he discovered has not yet been discovered.

We have many tests to detect blood of course – and all of them are better than the Guiacum test – BUT – all are presumptive tests. Presumptive tests tell us that a sample may be blood. Then, you need to conduct other tests to prove conclusively that the sample is surely blood.

Some presumptive tests  commonly used are: the Kastle-Meyer test (1901), and the Fluorescein and Luminol tests.

So well – that’s the answer: while there are now many better tests, there is no single test to conclusively say, “Yup, this is blood!” – right away – as Sherlock Holmes did.

Buy Now: Books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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