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Last Updated September 5, 2023.


A Study in Scarlet was written in 1886 and published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual, and is one of the four original full-length novels that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about his genius detective. It is set in late Victorian London and marks the first appearance in literature of the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. 

Plot Summary

In A Study in Scarlet, Doyle introduces the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and places them in the crime-solving partnership that lasts for numerous future adventures together. Watson, a physician and British military veteran who is at loose ends after returning from Afghanistan, meets Holmes, an eccentric, well-educated man who solves crimes using unorthodox methods, especially logical deduction.

Watson aids Holmes on a murder case with which Scotland Yard has requested assistance. The body of the victim, Enoch Drebber, has been found in a deserted house. There, Holmes and Watson meet the police detectives Gregson and Lestrade, and Watson observes Holmes’s methods of examining the body and crime scene. Two important clues found are a woman’s wedding ring and the word “Rache” written in blood on the wall—a word Holmes recognizes as German for “revenge.” He makes numerous conclusions about the murderer’s height, age, shoe size, fingernails, and means of transportation to assist the detectives; he finally reveals that the man was poisoned. When Watson expresses his amazement at and suspicion of Holmes’s conclusions, Holmes explains his process of deduction through observations he has made, such as the footprints in the soil outside the house and the height of the writing on the wall. 

An old woman claims the ring, but she disappears when Holmes attempts to follow her, and Holmes deduces that she was an accomplice of the murderer. Gregson suspects Joseph Stangerson, Drebber’s assistant, to be the murderer, but Stangerson is then found dead in his hotel room. Holmes employs a ruse to lure his suspect—whom he soon reveals to be Jefferson Hope—to him while Watson and the police detectives are present, and they detain him. Hope reveals that has an aortic aneurysm that he knows will be fatal. In the week before he dies, Hope tells Holmes, Watson, and the detectives the long and complicated story of his adventures with Drebber and Stangerson before their deaths, which took place in Utah during the Mormon westward migration.

Lucy and John Ferrier, her father, were the only survivors of a pioneer group traveling in the Salt Lake Valley. They were discovered and rescued by a group of Mormons, who gave them a place in their town in exchange for their conversion to Mormonism. Years later, Jefferson Hope, a traveler with a silver prospecting group, passed through their town and fell in love with Lucy. He visited often and vowed to return to marry Lucy after a few months’ stay in Salt Lake City for work. 

Both Drebber and Stangerson were polygamous Mormons competing to take Lucy as an additional wife; the Mormon elders gave her an ultimatum to choose one of the two men. Lucy’s father opposed her marrying a Mormon and sent an urgent message to Hope, who returned to help Lucy and her father escape so she could avoid the marriage. After the two escaped into the mountains with Hope, a party including Drebber and Stangerson located Lucy and her father while Hope was looking for food; they kidnapped Lucy, and Stangerson murdered her father. The Mormon authorities forced her to marry Drebber, but she died within a month, and Hope took her wedding ring. Drebber and Stangerson fled to Russia, where Hope pursued them. He finally tracked them down in London and poisoned them by giving them the option to choose between two pills, only one of which was poisoned. Drebber complied, choosing the poison, but Stangerson refused to choose, and Hope instead killed him with a knife.

His story complete, and his revenge carried out, Hope soon dies—without ever explaining the identity of the old woman who claimed the ring.

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