Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
After some consideration, I'm giving the second Sherlock Holmes story 3 stars (maybe a 3.33-3.5 or so, if we're being nit-picky). While the first, A Study in as Scarlett utterly blew me away and captivated me completely, The Sign was good, but in time, forgettable.
Also, it was pretty racist. But I'm not gonna get into that.
I don't think that being forgettable is totally a bad thing, really. This story is perhaps a fluffy one in between more meaningful and memorable mysteries. It was Doyle stretching his legs, er, fingers, with the characters and his version of London.
I think this one was learning more about both Watson and Holmes and their inner workings. We see Watson fall in love, which to me was rather unexpected. Holmes's reaction to that (and all) romance is cold and apathetic, which tells you a lot about him. But we also have characters throughout this story who somehow know Holmes from the past, which leads to curiosity about how he got to be the infamous man he is in the present. How did he make all these connections, being as antisocial as he seems?
We also get into Sherlock Holmes's dark side - which was by far my favorite aspect of this book. It shows vulnerability in a seemingly invincible character.
So much has been written about addiction and drugs, especially in recent times with the rise of the Big Pharma fueled opioid epidemic (cough), but, as a recovering addict myself, I can confidently say that a majority of writers fail miserable in this aspect. As with any aspect of human existence, you can never truly know what it is like unless you've been there. Hearing Holmes talk about using morphine and cocaine struck such a nerve in me...it was like taking the words right out of my mouth - with a bit less "thus"'s and replacing "heroin" with "morphine".
"He thrust the sharp point [of the needle] home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction."
That is almost difficult for me to read, as I know other addicts will agree. But what an incredible opening scene! With one opening paragraph, Sherlock Holmes transforms into a shining hero, into a mysterious, struggling antihero.
In the middle of the book, Watson makes some remark about how Holmes would make the perfect criminal, if he had chosen the dark side instead of the light. It makes the reader think Why? Why is this brooding, boastful drug addict solving crime instead of committing it? With his knowledge, they would never catch him. What makes him good?
Now I need to do some research on Doyle's own habits, but my gut tells me that there's no way he could have wrote about Holmes's dirty habits with such certainty if he hadn't experienced addiction himself. Every addict knows the basic story and struggle of another addict.
This story also had humor that was rather unexpected. My favorite line, which had me cackling while chugging coffee and driving 70mph on the interstate at ten AM, was this:
"I would rather have [the dog] Toby's help than that of the whole detective force of London."
It's both a little jab about the police as well as an example of Holmes's dry sense of humor, that I just adore. Also, Toby is such a good boy and I loved his part in solving the mystery, however improbable it sounded. More crime fighting dogs, please.
I said this with the first book, but I'll say it again: but I cannot believe it took me twenty six (and a half) years to start reading Sherlock Holmes! Though of course, I'm also a firm believer in the theory that books come to us when we are ready for them.
Note: I listened to this book, and will with all other Sherlock Holmes stories, by audiobook. They are narrated by Simon Vance, and the version is called The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Brilliance Audio. I HIGHLY recommend this version if you're going for an audiobook. It is nearly 60 hours, broken up in 7 parts, about two books per part. The perfect road trip selection.
View all my reviews on Goodreads