"The Sign of Four" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Dear Reader,

I was finally able to get my hands on to the second novel of the Sherlock Holmes series. Despite being such a fangirl about all things Holmes related I have only recently ventured upon the idea of actually reading the novels. (Yes, it’s taken me quite awhile). I wasn’t going to commit that fatal crime of simply calling myself a Dedicated Fan while ignoring the actual stories in which the original character lives; but for some reason reading the Sherlock Holmes books always seemed to be something to do in the future because the present seemed too busy.
In any case, the future has become the present and I have started to read them.

So the deal with “The Sign of Four”: in this novel, we see Holmes and Watson’s relationship flourish slightly – although the focus isn’t really on them; unsurprisingly it is on the mystery and Holmes’ deductions which solve it. The problem of the mystery itself is brought to them by a Mary Morstan, who has been receiving anonymous, but extravagant donations upon the death of her father. At first, it seems to Holmes that this is a simple case; however, it is not so and the plot predictably, but gratifyingly, thickens. The benefactor, Mr. Thaddeus Sholto, is actually the son of a very close friend of Miss Mary’s father. Mr. Sholto upon inheriting some ‘treasure’ along with his twin brother has decided that Miss Morstan should also receive her equal share (as her father has also had a hand in procuring it, according to Mr. Sholto). The plot thickens even more upon the duo’s visit to Mr. Sholto’s house, where they find his twin brother dead and the treasure missing.
I’m sure everyone knows what follows later. After some excellent sleuthing skills from he who need not be mentioned, and even some romance (in the case of Watson, needless to say) the story resolves itself quite neatly. What I liked about the second novel, as opposed to the first (“A Study in Scarlet”) is the fact that all the clues of the mystery are presented to the reader as the duo discovers them – or maybe I should say as Holmes discovers them and points them out to Watson (I have this desperate wish that for once Watson would be able to deduce something that Holmes could not – which I know is impossible. Or at least to see something first before Holmes so that he does get a chance to deduce it. I think I could easily get sick of him if he’s simply the fawning sidekick). In the first novel Holmes kept a lot of his observations to himself, but that wasn’t so here. The reader is easily able to follow the clues and make their own deductions, if they wish, and this reader definitely did wish.

I do have one complaint about this novel, but I feel it is sort of an unnecessary one. I feel as the writing style leaves something to be desired. It’s very ‘cause and effect’, this happened and that happened, and this being a detective story I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The writing is as dry and cold as Holmes himself, that when Watson interjects with descriptions of his own growing emotions for Miss Mary, it seems a bit jarring. Which is saying something, I know, as the narrator is meant to be Watson himself. Considering the length (very short) and subject (a damn good mystery) of the novel it is understandable that writing literature and character development (a complete one, anyway) were not what Doyle had in mind. However, it does accomplish its purpose – and that’s a good mystery with enough twists and superb Holmesian deductions to satisfy any fan. And that, after all, is what I was looking for.

Rating: 3.5 out 5 deer stalker hats.

 Lady Disdain


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