Book #21: A Study in Scarlet (1887)

By: Arthur Conan Doyle
Language: English and a paragraph of Latin
Finished reading on: 5 Feb 2012

This book holds the prize for most paradoxical: it’s the oldest book I’ve read since I started counting two years ago, and yet I read it on my Kindle, an undeniably modern piece of equipment. I bought said device in London before I got on the plane to come to Tokyo, and I loaded it up with free (and legal!!!) ebooks from Project Gutenberg, which is well worth a visit. It’s all out-of-copyright works, so they’re all older than 100 years now, basically. But more on the device later.

This book is the first in the Sherlock Holmes series, and details the introduction of Holmes and Watson. It’s not the first Sherlock Holmes story I’ve read, although it’s the first full novel that I’ve finished; and I’ve seen a few adaptations of the works too, but I didn’t actually know that much about the backstory of Sherlock Holmes, such as the fact that he’s a chemist of some description, or at least spends time in the labs. I had assumed that that was something they’d added to the BBC Sherlock series to make him more modern, but it was just as present in the book here.

As for the story itself, it is also roughly the same as the BBC adaptation’s first installment (which changes the name to “A Study in Pink”). A lot of the same twists in the plot were kept between this book and the adaptation, such as a particular word written on a wall, and yet a lot of them were changed significantly, such as the identity of the culprit, who only bears a resemblance in the adaptation.

Where the book completely fails is in its second half; without any explanation, we are transported to the Utah territory and treated to a story of treacherous polygamous Mormons. It later transpires that this is the backstory of the villain, but a little warning would have been nice. Of course, at the time, people may not have been reading the book for Sherlock Holmes, because it was his first introduction, but now that’s the only reason people are going to be reading this book, so his excisement from the second half of the story is annoying.

As for the twist ending, it’s predictable a mile off by modern standards, although probably because of itself. And I had seen the BBC adaptation with the almost-identical twist ending just over a month previously.

Anyway, it’s good. Conan Doyle’s prose has aged well, and is not very difficult to follow (this is in stark contrast to Gulliver’s Travels, which I have sort of gotten bored of reading at the moment), so even when the story became about something I didn’t care about, it was still not too difficult to finish. Plus it was quite short. A good read, and if you’ve not read any Holmes before it’s worth starting here, but it’s maybe not the best of the books.

Just while I’m here, I thought I’d mention the Kindle again. It’s a nice piece of equipment, and it’s worth noting that you’re not tied into the Amazon DRM in any way, although it is one of the easier ways to get books for it. It’s capable of the internet, but I can’t get it to connect to the ad hoc wifi that I set up on my laptop, and it’s a bloody pain to try and type on, since I got the cheap version with no keyboard. Turning pages isn’t obvious at first – it uses buttons on the sides, but it’s lower button = forward and upper button = backward on both the right and the left side of the device, which is a bit unintuitive at first, and I still accidentally press the forward button on the left side of the device trying to go back. As for the screen, it’s quite nice, although I’ve found it difficult to read in low light. But you can certainly read it outside on a sunny day, unlike a laptop screen.

I just need to find something else decent to read on it, now. I’m currently on the second part of Gulliver’s Travels, and I would like to read more of it, because it’s quite enjoyable, but its prose is very thick, as I said, and it hasn’t aged very well. Has anyone got any other recommendations for books to get for it?

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3 Responses to Book #21: A Study in Scarlet (1887)

  1. renfield1897 says:

    A Study in Scarlet was my first kindle read too!

    It was also my first Sherlock Holmes book. I enjoyed it, but like you, did not see the sudden move to Utah as a useful addition.

    There are a lot of good free reads on Amazon, so you should dip into them. Gutenberg is a great source of classis works.

    Dracula and Frankenstein are good reads.

    As for the kindle, I love it. I agree with your low light comment, but then I find them same with a paperbook as well. But for reading normal books, I now prefer it to actual books.

    I blogged last week on the kindle. ( http://philipdeane.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/the-kindleonly-for-nerds/ )

    • Finlay says:

      Heh, it’s funny that we had the same experience. Thanks for the tips… I actually read Frankenstein when I was at school, although perhaps I should read it again because that was about 8 or 9 years ago now. Still not getting enthused by Gulliver’s Travels, I have to say, so I’m kinda stuck on it.

  2. Pingback: Book #114: The Jungle Book (1894) | reuoq

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