Thursday, November 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A Study in Scarlet/ The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

For my classic mystery/suspense novel for the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge, I wanted to read something from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are so many different collections out there, it’s hard to know where to start, but I had a little help from my son, who is a huge fan of the TV series Sherlock. I haven’t seen the series, but started watching the show with him from the beginning on Netflix, and read a collection of stories to correlate roughly with some of the shows.

So, the book I’m reviewing contains A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I also read A Scandal in Bohemia from a separate collection. A Study in Scarlet is a good place to start, since, as the first story in the canon, it introduces Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. It’s quite different from what I expected. I thought it would be a much more straightforward detective novel- a murder, the detective following a trail of clues, and the eventual solving of the mystery. Sherlock would display his incredible insightfulness. But it isn’t much like that at all. There is the introduction of the characters. A murder occurs. Then the reader is cast back in time, onto another continent, to be introduced to the young murder victims and the murderer. A great deal of time is spent on their backstories. By the time we return to Sherlock and Watson, it’s pretty clear who the killer is. The mystery is how does Sherlock figure this all out. And that’s wrapped up with a bit of explanation.

The Hound of the Baskervilles similarly took me by surprise. It is Watson who dominates the story and does most of the detective work. Sherlock again comes in at the end. He adds a few pieces of important information, but his detective work seems fairly minimal compared to Watson’s labor intensive and more exciting activities.

The stories are interesting and quite fun to read, but as murder mysteries go, I was rather underwhelmed. They are more interesting for the people and as period pieces. I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed the TV series more.

The afterword of the book discussed Sherlock Holmes as a breakout character–how he is a literary creation that has "broken out" of the books. Everyone knows who Sherlock Holmes is, whether they have read the books or not. People know what it means to be "a Sherlock Holmes." I think that’s still true. Especially now with the popularity of the TV show. But then, I wonder. How true is it?

I was at a book fair two weekends ago, and talked briefly with a young teenage boy. My guess is that he was in the 12-14-year-old range. Trying to place the timeframe of a historical novel, I referred to "Richard the Lionheart. . .the Crusades"–which drew a blank stare. I said: "Robin Hood." And he shook his head. I was dumbfounded. How is it that Robin Hood has fallen out of general cultural literacy? Is it the lack of Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings? Does it matter? Was I sad for no reason? I wonder if in another 10 years, kids who hear a reference to Sherlock Holmes will not get it.

Two more books and I’ll be done with my Classics Challenge, but less than 2 months to go. I’m not sure I’ll make it. Where did the year go?