Seth Hahne's Reviews > A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Ian Edginton
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Nov 11, 11

bookshelves: comics

I have not read Holmes. I have certainly encountered him in movies, television shows, essays, and other pop-cultural artifacts, but I have not read his cases and have no firsthand experience with his interlocutor, Arthur Conan Doyle. So when I speak of A Study in Scarlet as adapted by I.N.J. Culbard and Ian Edginton, you’ll kindly bear my context in mind. I cannot speak to their faithfulness to their source material but to the quality of their final product alone.

A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle, Edginton, and Culbard

For the most part at any rate. It is an impossible task to approach this adaptation entirely unaware. Sherlock Holmes is, after all, one of the great and lasting protagonists of the English literary canon. He may not play part in literature in its capital sense (i.e., Literature), but everyone knows him as surely as they are acquainted with Captain Ahab or Tom Sawyer or King Arthur himself. So of course there is a certain fondness and familiarity built into the experience, and in approaching this adaptation there was a sense of anticipation, a curiosity to see just how the great detective would appear in this new iteration.

A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle, Edginton, and Culbard

I don’t know the cadence of Conan Doyle’s work but if it were anything like the narration that Edginton puts into the mouth of Dr. Watson, then I can pretty easily see why people came to enjoy Holmes’ adventures. Watson is an able raconteur and his telling keeps readers at enough of a distance from the detective that the easy intimacy of the comics page never threatens to bring Holmes too comfortably close. The dialogue present seems smartly chosen and it’s not difficult to imagine that any holes stem not from Edginton’s work as editor/adapter but from the source itself.

A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle, Edginton, and Culbard

Culbard’s illustration is almost universally plausible. There were moments in which Holmes was examining a thing or two and I wished he had chosen to represent the object of Holmes’ scrutiny. I suspect that in the end it didn’t matter because I suspect that Conan Doyle was less interested in giving readers a fair mystery to unravel than he was in creating an indelible hero for the next century. Raymond Chandler, in his essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” says that “Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.”

Holmes is not Chandler’s primary target in the evisceration that occurs in that essay, but one has to believe Chandler would be less than enamoured with the mystery laid out in A Study in Scarlet. It may be a product of the adaptation, but Holmes finds a number of clues that he keeps to himself until he is carrying out the Unmasking. Still worse, however, is that while off-camera, Holmes makes a phonecall and discovers essential information, which is not revealed until the midst of the discussion concerning his solution to the murder.

A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle, Edginton, and Culbard

In some ways I was frustrated that here was a mystery whose solution could not be logically inferred because we, the armchair detectives, found evidence withheld from us. All the same though, the depictions of Holmes and Watson and the rest are competently accomplished and Holmes especially carries with him an intriguing demeanor that pushes the reader forward on a journey of literary discovery.

[review courtesy of Good Ok Bad]
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