In 1887, a young Arthur Conan Doyle published A Study in Scarlet, creating an international icon in the quick-witted sleuth Sherlock Holmes. In this first Holmes mystery, the detective introduces himself to Dr. John H. Watson with the puzzling line, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” and begins Watson's, and the world's, fascination with this enigmatic character. In A Study in Scarlet, Doyle presents two equally perplexing mysteries for Holmes to solve: one a murder that takes place in the shadowy outskirts of London in a locked room where the haunting word Rache is written upon the wall; the other a kidnapping set in the American West. Picking up the “scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life,” Holmes demonstrates his uncanny knack for finding the truth, tapping into powers of deduction that will captivate readers today. (Description slightly edited from the synopsis on the back cover of this paperback edition, a synopsis presumably provided by the publisher – The Modern Library.)
This first Sherlock Holmes mystery is the first Sherlock Holmes mystery I've read. It's a rather old-fashioned mystery with old-fashioned values. As Anne Perry notes in her introduction to this Modern Library edition, “Conan Doyle's characters are essentially Victorian, with the strengths and weaknesses of their time, and probably of Conan Doyle himself. . . . His convictions and opinions were of his time and place. His values were the admiration of honor, intelligence, reason, loyalty, fortitude, invention, and optimism. He seems to have understood women little. . . . He had instinctive prejudices against certain groups of people. His reference to Jews is pejorative, and his portrayal of Mormons in this story is a gross distortion.
Despite my misgivings of this first Sherlock Holmes mystery, I plan to continue to read the other Sherlock Holmes novels.