A Study in Scarlet (reconstructed)

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Study in Scarlet:A Sherlock Holmes Murder Mystery;
Based on the Story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Publishers: Webb & Bower (Simon Goodenough credited inside), 1983

This book is more a gimmick than a pastiche in truth, but a cute gimmick.  It is, simply, the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, reverse engineered.  For example, the first few pages include a 1983 letter to the publisher describing the contents of a fabled dispatch box, and an 1886 letter from Watson to Conan Doyle, giving him permission to take the notes/documents which follow and form them into something readable.  It then, in a colorful and entertaining way, outlines the entire happenings of A Study in Scarlet, starting with Watson's medical discharge from the army, ending with the newspaper article cited on the last page of the original. 

Most of the original text is recreated here, split between quoted documents, articles, telegrams, and such, and personal accounts.  Watson's words are themselves split between diary entries, written with a free hand, and sections which he types up with more details.  Much of Holmes' dialogue from the original, when not quoted exactly by Watson, is corrected or added in the margins in Holmes' own hand. 

The author's name (Goodenough), only appears on the letter to the publishers, not on the cover or the publication page.  A Google search confirms that he was the editor/designer of the book, and that he did at least two more, based on The Sign of Four and Hound of the Baskervilles.

The most amusing part of this may be where it varies, always gently, from the Doyle text, especially at the beginning.  Doyle hurries through to putting his protagonists together and on the trail of the crime, but since the recreation is all of Watson's papers, we get, for example, more about his military service (cut short), a map of where he had been, a medical article about enteric fever, etc.  Goodenough also obviously enjoyed playing with slightly more blunt reactions from Watson to the financial situation which requires him to get a roommate, his first meeting with Holmes, and their first few months together before they become friends.  A solution to the problem of Watson's disappearing bulldog is even addressed. 

The book is packed with nice touches, recreations of various clues and everything encountered over the course of the case.  The recreated photos of the murder victims are a bit silly, but overall the evidence photos are well done, as well as excerpts from Holmes' monographs, police reports, accounts in the press, witness statements, and of course the culprit's journal and spoken account, which make up the bulk of "Part II" of the original.

I don't know that I would necessarily recommend it to someone who's never read the original, because while you can follow the story, much of the humor for me came from which bits are added to Watson's original pages by Holmes later.  I may be too close to the original, though, so I was most intrigued by where it deviated from the text, which it never did unreasonably.

The cover, incidentally, is a bit of a lie.  It encourages you to try to solve the case before the end, which is somewhat unfair, since you are not given the final clues (telegrams to Holmes from USA) until after you are given the solution.  This is best from a story-telling point of view, Holmes never reveals all his conclusions until after the case is solved.  So it's just the marketing people (who designed the cover) who dropped the ball there.

Next week, a pastiche that does honestly expect you to solve the case.  And if you thought this review was boring or gentle, be patient, cause the next one's a doozy.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

1 comment:

ZaK Kauffman said...


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