A Study in Scarlet is the beginning of their legend.
The novel is told largely from the reminiscences of a certain John Watson MD and tells the story of his meeting and purely coincidentially becoming roommates with a man called Sherlock Holmes who is introduced to us with the following, extraordinarily encouraging description.
"Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes -- it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge."I have made the experience that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who love Sherlock Holmes and those who hate him. I readily confess that I certainly belong to the former category.
It may be a little bit due to the (brilliant) BBC adaptation which portrays him as a passionate Byronic Hero, but I think I would have liked him anyway. Yes, he is more than a little socially retarded, but nonetheless brilliant. At the crime scene in A Study in Scarlet he made some deductions which seemed so incredible that I was very inclined to believe he had simply guessed, but I was delivered a plausible explanation for everyone of them. This explanation, however, did not happen until the conclusion during the last few pages, so I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and making my own (poor, you wouldn't want to know how poor!) deductions.
Something I like very much about Sherlock is that he is a believable character even though he is so brilliant. He has his very own logic, and his intellectual flaws make it even more authentic:
“His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing... My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System.”
Sherlock Holmes is certainly one of the most fascinating characters in literature and while his arrogance and emotional distance can be annoying sometimes, his inhumanity is easily endurable because there is another man almost always by his side: John Watson, the very picture of kind-heartedness.
In a way I am even fonder of him than of Sherlock and I cannot help thinking that he may play a much more important role than only that of narrator and sidekick.
Curious as I am to see the famous friendship between these two develop (and heeding the advice of Sherlock creator Steven Moffat who wrote a lovely introduction for my edition) I decided not to read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes next, as originally planned, but instead The Sign of the Four.
Mr Moffat claims that one notices the growing of their friendship much better if one reads the stories in the original order of publication. I don't know if that's true, but it cannot hurt to stick to the chronological order, right?
That being said, I was really surprised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's style of writing. It is so straightforward, so clean, so void of lengthy descriptions and so not Victorian. His writing sounds almost modern, which is not bad, but not what I expected at all. The story was absorbing yet not so very extraordinary, but since the focus of the novel is on the introduction of Sherlock Holmes as a character, it was secondary anyway.
When the narration suddenly jumped to the excessive background-story of the murderer halfway through the book I was a little irritated in the beginning, but it was interesting and I quickly began to care for these new characters too. I missed Sherlock and Watson, though.
I know that many dislike A Study in Scarlet because of the portrayal of Mormons as polygamic, murderous savages, but since I was warned beforehand that Arthur Conan Doyle did not know anything about real Latter Day Saints, I simply regarded his creations as an exotic tribe sprung solely from his imagination.
I am really looking forward to reading more from the master detective. Somehow I'm sensing this wonderful feeling that I have found a new literary friend for life.