“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it”.
Those are the words uttered by Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous literary detective, while explaining his duties as an investigator to his loyal companion, Watson, fetching both the doctor’s and the readers’ full attention in the process. The famous inhabitant of Baker Street, 221B, has gained recognition not only because of his brilliancy in solving crimes, but also for the elegance and charm manner in which he does it.
The first book featuring Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, read on Complete Sherlock Holmes, Penguin, the first book counting 86 pages), is the short, concise, yet eloquent tale of a curious murder: a man, Enoch Drebber, is found dead inside an apartment, a ring dropped by his side, no signs of struggle, the German word Rache printed in blood on a wall. Scotland Yard is at loss and must, as much as it wishes it didn’t have to, recur to the private detective’s talent. Saying anything else would spoil the case, for Mr. Holmes’s genius also resides on discovering what is and what isn’t important for solving the crime. I may say in advance, though, that he does not disappoint: it is incredibly enjoyable to follow his tracks, to be surprised by his amazement at what seems to us trivial at first, to be shocked at the explanations on how each deduction took place. The reader is tempted to also deduct and conclude, because the story is told in such a pace that one finds oneself running along Watson to keep track of Holmes’s steps – and, let’s face it, to solve the crime just as fast as he does.
The story is divided in three parts, the first and the third ones being told by Watson and the second one consisting on a tale that explains the reasons behind the murder, the why to the who and how discovered by Holmes. Perhaps is that the reason why, at least to me, the second part of the book seemed slower, nearly boring, when compared to the others; Holmes is such a fascinating character that anything that comes between two of his appearances will seem a bit colorless, a little damp. The book is so short, though, that the second section does not in any way diminish its value.
I dare say this is the best book of the crime genre I have ever read – only, of course, I haven’t read the rest of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories yet. This is, however, a brilliant tale in every aspect: well written, well organized, giving the reader every piece of evidence Holmes has and not holding information back (which is something that particularly annoyed me when I read Agatha Christie). By allowing Watson to tell Holmes’s story, the author came up with the best trick he could ever use, making it possible to both explain the deductions in a way that us, mere mortals, may understand (since Watson also needs the explanations) and yet keeping the detective’s brilliancy protected. The concision is also enviable and shows how much of Holmes was in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s blood; the ability to tell a story with just enough words to make it both understandable and fast-paced is a treasure only possessed by few.
If you are looking for a good mystery tale and haven’t read this yet, hurry up! Holmes is already half-way through solving the crime and I give you my word: it is worth keeping up with him.