Dr. John Watson is a veteran, newly returned home to Britain from the war in Afghanistan. Watson is a good man, though far too free in spending his money and living well – a fault that leaves him in need of a roommate when he can no longer afford to live alone. A chance encounter with an old classmate leads Watson to a man – a scientist of sorts – who had been lamenting his own empty purse and need of a roommate to split the cost on a set of rooms he wished to move into. Watson agrees to meet the scientist – one Sherlock Holmes – and see if they might be compatible as flatmates.
At first Watson sees little of his new roommate, who keeps odd hours and odder company. Eventually Holmes reveals to Watson the source of his income and his position as the world’s only consulting detective. As two of Scotland Yard’s finest come to their doorstep to bring Holmes in to investigate a mysterious murder, Watson finds himself being drawn into Holmes’ work as both a medical expert and a chronicler. And so begins what will become one of literature’s greatest partnerships.
Writer Ian Edginton and illustrator I.N.J. Culbard are not new to adapting classic literature into graphic novels or even to adapting Sherlock Holmes. The two have worked together on previous Illustrated Classics adaptations such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Hound of The Baskervilles. When reading this book, one can sense that partnership as the text and illustrations are – like Holmes and Watson – well suited toward one another.
Culbard’s art-style is cartoonish but not overly so. Like the majority of manga artists, Culbard exaggerates the physical features of his characters to make it easier to display their emotions. This enlargement of facial features such as noses, eyes and chins also serves to make each character more distinctive. The characters’ appearances remain consistent throughout, though with his jutting-chin there are some panels where Holmes looks not unlike Bruce Campbell of Army of Darkness fame.
Judging Edginton’s adaptive writing is a trickier task. I am not unfamiliar with the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle but I had never read the original text of A Study in Scarlet. As near as I can tell, Edginton has changed very little of the dialogue – a touch which I’m sure will please Holmes purists but one which also makes a good deal of this volume a difficult read for the teenage audience it is supposedly aimed at.
I suppose I must also acknowledge the elephant in the corner – yes, this is the infamous Sherlock Holmes story that says a lot of factually inaccurate things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. To say more would give away the mystery of the book. Suffice it to say Arthur Conan Doyle freely admitted to basing the information in this story off a newspaper story that later proved false and his portrayals of the Mormon faith in later works was far more respectful. I just find it curious that Edginton would leave this text intact, including a reference to Brigham Young himself, yet saw fit to exclude some equally offensive remarks regarding Native Americans that were in the original text.
Ultimately the greatest problem this volume has – though this fault lies not with the adaptors – is that A Study In Scarlet has little to recommend it for adaptation into a graphic novel format in the first place. Apart from the fact that it is the very first Sherlock Holmes story, there’s little of interest here. There’s no mystery that the reader can solve along with the detective, as Holmes withholds all his evidence until he is explaining how he solved the crime. A full third of the book is devoted toward the killer explaining why he did what he did after the fact. And there’s not much in the way of action, with the better portion of the story consisting of men standing around the parlor having conversations.