This is the very first Sherlock Holmes story ever written. In it, we get the superlative delight of seeing Holmes and Watson first meet, rent the iconic apartment on Baker Street, and get acquainted. We learn a bit about Holmes' eccentric brilliance, Watson's steadfast dependability, and Mrs. Hudson's long-suffering patience. And we get to see Holmes solve a baffling murder case. Great fun!
Now, I think this novel is wonderful, but there's this long digression in the middle that smacks of filler. I think that five chapters detailing events years and years before could have been summed up in a couple of pages. It's supposed to make us sympathetic with one character, but I think that could have been accomplished equally well by having him just tell his story to his listeners in a more natural way. Yes, it's usually better to "show" rather than "tell," but it's also true that brevity is the soul of wit, and I spent those five chapters thinking, "Well, this is interesting, but can't we get back to the real story?" Like I said, it felt like filler material written to beef up a too-short story.
But please don't think that I dislike the book! I don't -- I like it ever so much. It's tightly plotted, the characters and dialog are superb, and of course, the deductions are amazing. But I think that some of his later stories are paced much better. It's great, but not brilliant. However, the first time I read it, as a preteen, I thought it was wonderful.
Particularly Good Bits: "...where there is no imagination, there is no horror."
"What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence," returned my companion, bitterly. "The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done?"
If this was a movie, I would rate it: PG. There's a murder, after all, but it's not particularly gruesome.