Study Guide

A Study in Scarlet

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

To many, the Afghan wars bring fame and promotion, but to John H. Watson, M.D., they bring only misfortune. He is wounded by a Jezail bullet, succumbs to enteritis during his convalescence, and after months of suffering is sent home with a pension of eleven shillings and sixpence a day. At first, Watson lives in a hotel, but his pension scarcely covers his bills. By chance, he meets an old friend, Stamford, to whom he confides his difficulties. Stamford tells him of an amateur scientist, Sherlock Holmes, who has rooms at 221B Baker Street and is looking for someone to share them. Stamford warns him that Holmes pursues unorthodox studies—one day, Stamford finds him beating a cadaver to see if bruises can be produced after death—and that he has a queer habit of making deductions from trifling details. Watson grows curious about Holmes and arranges to have Stamford introduce them. Soon after that first meeting, Watson goes to share Holmes’s rooms on Baker Street.

Watson never goes out and consequently spends much time studying his new friend. He finds Holmes an amazingly contradictory man, one who knows nothing at all of literature, philosophy, or astronomy but has a profound knowledge of chemistry, anatomy, and sensational crime stories. He also plays the violin. From time to time, Holmes has visitors, but Watson never knows why they come.

One day at breakfast, Watson learns a good deal more about his friend. Holmes shows him a letter from Tobias Gregson, a Scotland Yard investigator, who asks him for help in a case of murder. A gentleman identified by his visiting cards as Enoch J. Drebber, “Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.,” was found murdered in a deserted house in Lauriston Gardens. Holmes then explains that he is a consulting detective and that Scotland Yard asks for his help whenever an unusual case comes up that is outside police jurisdiction or too difficult.

Holmes and Watson take a cab to Lauriston Gardens to look into the affair. Holmes spends a long time outside in the road and in the yard. Watson is impatient at the delay, but Holmes examines everything carefully. Inside the house, Gregson and another detective from Scotland Yard, Lestrade, greet them and point out the body of Drebber, which is surrounded by spatters of blood. Holmes goes over the body painstakingly.

As the orderlies carry out the corpse, a woman’s wedding ring falls to the floor. The Scotland Yard men are sure a woman is involved, and Lestrade is triumphant when he finds the word “Rache” printed in letters of blood on the wall. As Holmes leaves the room, he announces his findings to the detectives. The murderer is more than six feet in height and florid. He wears square-toed boots, smokes a Trichinopoly cigar, has long nails on his right hand, and drove up to the house in a four-wheeler drawn by a horse with a new shoe on his off forefoot. Further, the murder was done by poison, and “Rache” is not an abbreviation for Rachel but rather the German word meaning revenge.

Holmes read the story from the cigar ashes, the tracks, the height of the writing, and the scratches made during the writing on the wall. From the fact that the blood on the floor came from a nosebleed, for example,...

(The entire section is 1317 words.)