- The Good: Holmes! Watson!
- The Bad: Not a minus, but be ready for the plot’s lengthy Mormon diversion
- The Literary: The first story of the man who made it cool to be smart; also the first detective story that features a magnifying glass
Dr. Watson returns from the second British Afghan war, wounded, with a measly pension, and finds an unlikely roommate at 221 B Baker Street. In the very first story to feature the most famous literary detective, Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens.
The best thing about this book is the introduction to the man himself. Doyle manages to create a protagonist who is one of the most egotistical and self-absorbed characters in history, and you absolutely love him. He’s brilliant, meticulous, and highly logical, choosing to know nothing of “contemporary literature, philosophy, and politics”. The only thing that keeps the boredom at bay is solving crimes. And despite his dispassionate deductions, Holmes cannot live without the big reveal of his methods that shows everyone just how smart he is.
The second best thing about this book is the platonic meet-cute of one of the most important duos in literature. They hit it off right away, both preferring a quiet roommate who keeps to himself, but in no time their friendship blossoms. Dr. Watson is not only smart (he is a medical doctor after all), but he’s emotionally intelligent in the exact ways that Holmes is not, which highlights just how intelligent Holmes is, as well as his character deficiencies.
The mystery itself is quite small, and Holmes manages to solve it extremely quickly. But you’ll have to wait for the explanation until the end, after an extensive diversion to Utah Mormon country. Many readers seem to dislike the evil Mormon side story, but I find it just as thrilling as the rest. Maybe even more so since I didn’t remember this section at all, whereas the main Sherlock part of the mystery has been played in various media many times. And perhaps the Mormons are treated a bit unfairly, but the violent Danite offshoot-sect featured in this book really did form their own militia and instigated several bloody battles.
And don’t forget the introduction of Detective Inspector Lestrade and the iconic Baker Street Irregulars. Read the birth of a literary legend for yourself, or better yet, listen to Stephen Fry read it to you. The game is afoot!