Our Primary Case, Dear Watson

A Study in Scarlet


In the year 1878 I took my degree of doctor of medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.

***Read as part of the Through the Wardrobe Debut Novels Challenge***

When you think of the English detective, only one man’s name comes to mind. Sherlock Holmes is a character utterly synonymous with the literary tradition of the Victorian mystery and due to his global popularity has been reincarnated and reinvented multiple times. His intellectual feats and tales of cunning have been adapted for stage, silver screen, television screen, radio and other works of fiction and his popularity shows no sign of slowing. So where did it all begin? In 1887 when Dr Watson first met consulting detective Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet of course!

Written from the point of view of retired Army Doctor James Watson on his return to London life after a tour of Afghanistan, A Study in Scarlet follows Watson as he encounters, moves in with and befriends the elusive and mysterious Sherlock Holmes. The life of a self-made ‘consulting detective’ is forever changing and Watson gets swept away in the excitement of his first case with Holmes – the seemingly separate murders of Enoch Drebber and his secretary Joseph Stangerson.

As this story is told in two parts, there is a fragmentation to the overall mystery that affects the flow of the narrative. In Part 1, we are entertained by Watson and his astonishment at his newfound companion’s aptitude for accurate detection. In Part 2, the motive behind the mystery (that is resolved at the end of Part 1) is finally revealed as we head into the realms of backstory, Mormons and the desert lands of America. Everything is clear, explained and wrapped up nicely by the time the novel ends but Conan Doyle is clearly a debut novelist trying to find his feet in the world of detective fiction. Splitting the story in two removes the effect of any suspense accrued in Part 1 of the tale and the change in narrative style makes for a disorientating read.

That being said, what I did love about reading this introduction to the world of Holmes and Watson is the finer detail Conan Doyle puts into the story to breathe life into both lead characters. You are introduced to Holmes’ idiosyncrasies through Watson’s disbelief and Holmes’ accurate assessment of Watson gives the audience an understanding of the army doctor. They balance and play off each other so effortlessly, even in this early story, that you can clearly see the foundations for this amazing and enduring literary partnership. Worth a read for this initial interaction alone.

3 star

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9 thoughts on “Our Primary Case, Dear Watson

  1. Pingback: Would You Rather? A Fun Book Tag | Travelling In My Bookcase

  2. Pingback: Debut Authors – What Conan Doyle Did Next… | Through The Wardrobe

  3. Your sentiments echo mine. I love the first half of the novel, but the second half drags. I would lay the blame for this solely on Doyle being a bit of a novice, but he does the same thing in The Valley of Fear years later. Hmmmmm.

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