Nyx Book Reviews

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Review: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1 + #2
Rating: 4/5 Stars

325 pages
Published 2005 by Collector’s Library

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I am an unapologetic Sherlock Holmes fan, yet it took me this long to read the source of my admiration: Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.

I read the Collector’s Library edition which combined the first two Sherlock Holmes novellas, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. In these we find out how Holmes and Watson meet, and they solve two mysteries. I won’t go into the plots here, as it is quite hard to talk about them without giving any spoilerish information away.

Sherlock Holmes is awesome. I love his crazy logic deductions, the way he almost deus-ex-machina-y comes to his solutions. I love how he is always addicted to one thing or another, and that he well, not so very mentally stable. This eccentric man is balanced out by doctor Watson, that is cool but engaged, that grounds Holmes in reality. They complete each other in a way that most detective duo’s can only dream of. No, it isn’t like real life in any way. Holmes could never exist, neither could his methods. But just for a few hours, isn’t it fun to pretend that it could?

The writing in A Study of Scarlet is a bit clunky at times, and there are some continuity errors in The Sign of Four. This didn’t make the book less enjoyable for me though. Some people have remarked upon the racism in Doyle’s books (and anti-Mormonism in A Study of Scarlet). Yes, there is some, although I’d like to disagree on the severity of it. He for example writes about Mormons, condemning the way they have multiple wives – but to be honest I fully see this to be within his right. There is no rule that books should always be ideologically neutral. Just because you disagree with the way they live doesn’t mean you’re evil. He doesn’t paint the leaders in a good light, but the average Mormon is just human, and they are helpful people.

There is heavier racism in The Sign of Four, where a certain tribe of people is painted as less than human and savage. Where I was terribly annoyed by the superiority the white Crusoe claimed over the black Friday in Robinson Crusoe, I wasn’t that much bothered by this particular instance. The British imperialism and domination is a fact of history, and the way Doyle describes Watson’s thoughts and conversations with others is just that – a truthful description of how people thought back then. I feel that he as author neither condemns nor promotes racism, and that’s okay with me.

A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four have only strengthened my Holmes-crush, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories.


The investigation of a bizarre crime in A Study in Scarlet brings Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson together for the first time, in what proves to be an auspicious beginning for one of the most illustrious crime-solving partnerships of all times. In The Sign of Four, an incredible tale of greed and revenge unfolds as Holmes and Watson accompany a beautiful young woman to the dark heart of London.

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