I was a mystery buff back in high school and read a number of Sherlock Holmes stories while simultaneously watching THE Holmes, Jeremy Brett, periodically solve crimes on PBS. No disrespect to Benedict Cumberbatch, whom I love, or even to Robert Downey Jr., but Jeremy Brett was my Holmes the way that Tom Baker was my Doctor, and you always love your first the best. Somehow, I never managed to read “A Study in Scarlet” until now, *mumble**mumble* years later. I’d probably characterize it as a novella rather than a novel. It serves as a nice introduction to Holmes and Watson, and immediately the two characters click on the page. It’s perhaps more fun to watch Watson try to solve the mystery of Holmes than it is to watch Holmes try to solve the mystery of the two murders that are the center of “A Study in Scarlet.” Holmes himself is prickly, but intriguing, although it's interesting to see that many of his brilliant deductions here in fact rely quite a bit on guesswork and assumptions.
The central mystery isn’t terribly engaging until the backstory is presented in the form of an almost entirely separate side story that takes the reader to mid-19th century Utah, the founding of Salt Lake City by Mormons, a tragic love story, and lifelong quest for revenge. It’s an odd narrative structure to shift the action entirely to another continent for about a third of the book, and different than the usual 19th century convention of having another character tell the embedded story, thereby embedding points of view within points of view. Conan Doyle’s method is perhaps cleaner in that sense, but if I hadn’t known that section was coming I would have found it jarring. Otherwise, this section is packed full of tension, drama and danger and was a pretty ripping yarn, if rather condescending (and probably downright offensive) toward the LDS Church.
Overall, “A Study in Scarlet” was a fun read and I plan to continue through the rest of the Holmes canon at some point in the near future.