A Study in Scarlet

by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
90 pages, Mystery
Reviewed by Jeanne

An enjoyable, suspenseful beginning to the collaboration of Holmes and Watson.


"A Study in Scarlet," chronologically the first Sherlock Holmes mystery, introduces readers to the intrepid chronicler of Holmes' cases, Dr. Watson. Newly returned to London from the Afghan War after taking a bullet, Watson meets the eccentric, nebulous Sherlock Holmes and with him rents rooms in 221B Baker Street. It is not until the strange murder of a man in an abandoned house, however, that Watson learns exactly who and what his companion is, and in this first case the two form one of the best-known friendships of literary history.


Sherlock Holmes is incredibly egotistical and often derides others for not coming up to his standards, though he does commend good detective work when he sees it (which is rarely). His egotism and eccentricities are well-balanced by Watson and his first-person account of the case. Murder is not condoned, but the circumstances are also brought into consideration and the author resolves the crime in a just manner.

Spiritual Content

Mormonism plays a critical role in the backstory of the murder, and it is not looked upon favorably. Mormon leader Brigham Young and his band of Avenging Angels appear, as does the Mormon practice of polygamy, which was still practiced at the time. God is referred to several times as the highest Judge. While he obviously believes in God or a god, Holmes puts his faith in science and seems to be a believer in Evolution.


Two characters are murdered, and the crime scenes are painted vividly enough that they may disturb some. A word is found written in blood. The Avenging Angels (or Danites), a band of Mormons that would plunder, kill, and take women captive, are referenced; they threaten a character, and one person is killed by them.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Brandy mixed with water is used to revive a man and pipes and cigars are smoked, as was customary at the time. We do not yet see Holmes' use of narcotics - that appears in "The Sign of Four" - but Watson does wonder if Holmes is taking some sort of drug.

Sexual Content

Again, Mormon polygamy is important to the plot, and harems are referenced. A forced marriage also shows up.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"Good God" is used as an exclamation.


This first Sherlock Holmes novel is an excellent introduction to the famous literary detective's methods and singular nature, and to the loyalty of the sensible Dr. Watson. The way the narrative goes back in time to trace the murderer's reasons for committing his crimes is unique to this novel, and provides an interesting look at the person's mind. Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" novels and short stories are never cut-and-dry and offer plenty of action, intrigue, and eerie suspense for any mystery-lover; and the one-of-a-kind Sherlock Holmes, even with his egotism, is timeless.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: adult

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