Posts Tagged ‘The Sign of the Four’

The Sign of the Four (1890)
Arthur Conan Doyle
Penguin Classics, 160pp

The second Sherlock Holmes adventure sees Holmes in a deep melancholy, one that is only lifted by a visit from a troubled young woman, Mary Morstan, whose father disappeared ten years before. Four years later she began to receive a gift, once a year, and now she has been invited to meet her mysterious benefactor. She needs an escort, and Holmes is perfect… And in the ensuing investigation – which involves a wronged woman, a stolen hoard of Indian treasure, a wooden-legged ruffian, a helpful dog and a love affair – even the jaded Holmes is moved to exclaim, ‘Isn’t it gorgeous!’

The Sign of the Four introduced a number of key elements in the Holmes mythology: his cocaine addiction and Watson’s wife. It has a more romantic element than the other tales in the series, but as is typical of Doyle, he sacrifices character development for more chases. Unlike his first Holmes tale, he keeps his sleuth centre-stage for most of the action, and the story is stronger for it. There is some wonderful skulduggery here, and though much of it seems improbable, this is Sherlock Holmes’s London, not the real London, so we can forgive. It struck me reading, that it is with Sherlock Holmes that the comic book really begins: okay, there are no illustrations here, but what Doyle is create a London that isn’t London, but a world for his character to inhabit, and he stalks around it solving crime like many a comic book superhero would do forty years hence.


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