A perfect example of Doyle’s power over the page is the way that at the end of ‘Part 1’, after revealing who the murderer is, we are suddenly whisked away back in time and across continents to Utah. It’s an incredibly long flashback scene but Conan-Doyle keeps up his reader’s interest not even hinting at the connection between this rather tragic tale and the mystery which Holmes is investigating. I can understand that this could put the odd reader off but if you have patience and stick with it, not only do you get a lovely little twist but it’s also a tense little story inside a bigger one. The characters in this section are likeable and it feels like a good old fashioned adventure story with a tragic end. I know that this book has earned some controversy due to its depiction of Mormons, presenting them as having almost a secret Police force that watches over its followers and forces them to obey. Now, I must be honest I know extremely little about the Mormon religion but what I will say is this: This novel was written over a hundred years ago and is a work of fiction, any reader should remember this and should not take their first impressions of Mormonism from it, but at the same time Mormons should not allow themselves to be offended. After all, the religion was viewed in a very different light back then.
Now of course, I need to discuss Holmes himself. I must confess that too an extent Holmes is not always as recognisable as the character we know today and I do wonder whether perhaps society has just adopted a stereotype with a few differences to his literary counterpart, or whether the ‘Humanisation’ that supposedly occurs in The Sign of Four, rounds his character out just that little bit more. None the less he is still an extremely interesting character and a frightening one as well, the edition I have containing an introduction by Stephen Moffat who comments that the very first time we hear of our hero is when it is told that he has a curious habit of Flogging Corpses for some scientific experiment. It’s a strange introduction but the more one thinks about it, the more one realises how this is the perfect introduction. Holmes is different to all of us, yet to an extent he has the same fear and anxieties as the average human being. This first impression immediately gains our interest and shock, but when we meet him we realise he is human after all and not some sort of monster. Watson to an extent is a bit bland here but he is given all the makings of a good character so I’m sure in later works his characterisation will be expanded.
I have read one or two criticisms about the murder itself, some calling it uninteresting and boring compared to later Holmes tales but to an extent I do think that perhaps these people are missing the point. This novel is all about Holmes deduction, the crime itself appears boring and simplistic compared to others because Doyle’s wants to concentrate on Holmes’s way of solving it. He then pulls an extra punch and makes the crime so much more interesting by providing an elaborate back story, utter genius.
This is the first Sherlock Holmes novel; I shouldn’t really have to say much more to recommend it.