The Sign of Four lets us get to know more about Sherlock Holmes through the unraveling of an intricate case. It gives a greater glimpse into Holmes’ drug habit and his pompous and abrasive personality. This time, Holmes and Watson are presented with a mystery at least ten years in the making when a young woman approaches Holmes with a story of her father who vanished ten years ago and her subsequent receipt of precious jewels and now an invitation to meet someone who promises to shed light on the mystery.
Many times through the story, Holmes makes it a point to say that he has a number of theories but doesn’t want to expound on any of them until he has the appropriate facts. Contrary to Holmes’ abundance of theories, the reader walks alongside Watson in confusion as more and more diverse elements pile up without having any clear indication as to their relationship to one another or to the central case. What starts off as the hope of solving a decade old disappearance turns into a case of murder and grand larceny as the crew stumbles upon a corpse and a missing treasure.
As the case grows more intricate Holmes annoyingly goes “off stage” a few times to work on some of his own theories. I found these moments annoying because Watson remains in Baker Street waiting for Holmes and as a result we only get a few sentences of explanation as to these elements of Holmes’ adventures or investigations. Some of these moments involve moments of disguise and subterfuge. It’s entirely possible, based on some of the other elements in this book and the previous novel, Study in Scarlet, that these scenes were deemed to be too dull for inclusion and if that is the case then I applaud Conan Doyle for leaving them out. Still, part of me wanted to see more of Holmes in action rather than Holmes in narrative.
As the mystery wraps up and we reach the conclusion, we once again receive a lengthy narrative retelling a story that happened decades prior. I found this story a bit more interesting to read than the story told at the end of Study in Scarlet, but I was still a little bored by the lengthy narrative. Much of the action and intrigue of the story was boiled down to its most basic elements or left out entirely as the narrator simply presented the base facts from memory.
The overall concept of this particular mystery was fairly intriguing and I liked the way that it played out. I found myself liking this novel slightly better than the first Holmes story but still felt a little underwhelmed as to the overall style and structure. The nature of his intelligent deductions is fun and while his character is abrasive, I enjoy getting to know more about Holmes. A solid sequel.
3 out of 5 stars
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