23 March 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle - "A Study in Scarlet"

Having reached the Holmes novels in my mystery collection, I decided they were worth the re-read, since it has been at least ten years since last I saw them.

"A Study in Scarlet" is a particularly odd book - it's our introduction to Holmes, and the first half of the book shows clearly why he became popular. Partly, I think, it's because Watson himself is such an amiable pair of eyes to view Holmes with. Holmes' science is intriguing and the story ambles along well enough.

And then we reach part two, and the melodrama of the history behind the murder made me wince and sigh - until a recognisable name was mentioned, I was wondering if somehow a totally different novel had been accidentally inserted. It's an interesting device, though: the murderer, the foul fiend our heroes have captured, is in fact a hero himself. Any moral dilemma surrounding his capture is conveniently disposed of by health problems.

Reading these older stories almost always involves a certain amount of adjustment. Issues of race, attitudes towards women - they're alien (and yet not so distant below the surface). One thing which stood out to me is that the murderer's attempt to rescue his stolen bride stopped as soon as he found out she'd been married the day before. She was still alive - didn't die till a month later - but the simple fact of the marriage meant he no longer attempted to rescue her. That's unlikely to happen in a modern tale.

Too many forensic shows also made me doubt that a man stabbed in the heart and lying below the window of a room would be so...leaky.

Not a terrible story, but I could happily have done without all of the flashback.

Also discovered an alternate spelling new to me: dumfoundered. Being used to "dumbfounded", I just had to look that one up to see if it was real. I'm going to have to consult the Oxford some time, because 'dumfoundered' claims to mean 'confound' while 'dumbfounded' means 'struck dumb', so perhaps it's not an alternate spelling at all.

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