A Study in Emerald, a short story by Neil Gaiman, showcases the best the medium has to offer. There’s a
reason why Gaiman chose to open his anthology, Fragile Things, with this piece. For the same reason, this
story won Gaiman the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Simply put, A Study in Emerald is part of a
rare breed of stories that leaves readers with a conflicted sense of awe intermingled with disappointment.
Readers will sit back after taking in the last page, unsure of whether they should be exulting in this display
of sheer artistry or saddened by the realization that they probably won’t read anything quite so masterful in
a long while.
The mystery fans among us have likely already noticed the resemblance this short story’s title bears with one of the genre’s most beloved classics, A Study in Scarlet. A Study in Emerald is Gaiman’s pastiche of the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes. Gaiman takes the characters we all know and love, and he does what he does best: baffle the reader.
The story traces the footsteps of our favorite detectives through their first case together. Someone has
murdered a German royal, leaving behind a gruesome and cryptic scene. And as our characters decipher clues and question suspects, the case stops becoming elementary and starts becoming supernatural. Gaiman takes his protagonists off the course set by Doyle in the late 19th century and onto one more reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft and Doctor Who.
Remarkably, despite the creative liberties Gaiman takes with A Study in Emerald, the story never oversteps its bounds. With every word, Gaiman stays true to the purpose of a pastiche and commits to paying Doyle homage. The story reads as if the two had collaborated, combining the Doyle’s storytelling style with Gaiman’s ingenuity. Readers will find the experience to feel like a tour through the canon of Sherlock Holmes with Gaiman as their guide. This means that even the most astute readers will find themselves blinking in surprise and circling back to reread shocking revelations.
A hallmark of any great story is its ability to convey its existence in something much larger than itself, and A Study in Emerald demonstrates this quality in spades. Gaiman’s mystery is steeped in a feeling of vastness, as if there are countless more stories hidden behind the text. This not only gives it a sense of realism, but it also leaves readers with a great deal to chew on after they’ve read the last word. A Study in Emerald is the sort of story that one can read a dozen times and still stumble onto secrets hidden in its subtext.
If you haven’t had the chance to dive into some Gaiman, A Study in Emerald is a fantastic place to start.
This award winning piece is a perfect example of what makes Neil Gaiman one of today’s most critically
acclaimed writers. You can find it in his anthology, Fragile Things, but if you simply cannot wait another
minute, you can also read it on his website for free. This is a story that deserves a spot at the top of every
And if you want to check out Gaiman’s source of inspiration as well as read an incredible story, check out Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, A Study in Scarlet