The Sign of Four

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The Sign of FourThe Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published: 1890

This is the second of four Sherlock Holmes novels. The only one I’d read previously was the third, The Hound of the Baskervilles, so it appears I’ll be reading these in the most bizarre order I can manage. This does make a few references to A Study in Scarlet, I believe, but it doesn’t seem like the order in the series matters all that much.

After annually receiving a mysterious and incredibly valuable pearl in the mail for the past six years, Mary Morstan was delivered a letter asking her to finally meet the unknown sender. He had some information on her father, who had gone missing years ago. The letter asked that she not involve the police, but she was still able to enlist the help of Holmes and Watson.

It turns out the pearls were from a treasure that her father had stolen while serving with the British East India Company (similar to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone) and it’s now been passed down to her. But wait! Murder! Robbery! Mysteries to be solved!

Unlike Baskervilles, in which Watson acted alone for the most part, we get to follow Sherlock for the entirety of the novel. Having him around for the whole story was both an advantage and a detriment, I think. I enjoy his character being involved (although Watson can really become a kiss-ass in his company, at times), but I think he’s too perfect in a way. The story becomes much too straight-forward, with no red herrings and no real mystery. Sherlock knew who did it and then he catches him. At least in Baskervilles, not having Sherlock around allowed us to try and piece together the mystery and make mistakes before he arrived at the end to Scooby-Doo the culprit.

The last thirty pages of the book consists of a character describing how the treasure came into his possession. It was a very strange choice, I thought, to essentially tie-up the mystery and end with such a large chunk of back-story. It seemed like he could have come up with a slightly more elegant way of weaving that in.

Though not as much as the other Sherlock stories I’ve read, I did really enjoy this. Something about his writing just draws me in. I’ll eventually make my way through all the Sherlock stories, but it occurred to me while reading this that I really need to pick up The Lost World. I have a feeling I’ll love that.

4 thoughts on “The Sign of Four

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