Jared Millet's Reviews > The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
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's review
Sep 26, 2011

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bookshelves: classics, mystery
Read from November 16 to 24, 2011

The second Sherlock Holmes novel is already sliding into formula - Holmes investigates crime, solves it almost immediately but doesn't tell anyone just so he can be a smart-alec, hunts down culprit, and then we veer into an extended section depicting the criminal's story from his own point of view. While in A Study in Scarlet this latter section took up a full half of the novel, in the sequel it wisely only takes up a single chapter.

Still, my problem with this one is that the problem Sherlock solves doesn't really seem all that difficult, and therefore there's no real suspense and no "a-ha!" moment at the end. More interesting here are the subplot of Watson's romance with the story's "wronged woman" and the revelation that Holmes is a coke-fiend. I'd heard about his drug use in the original stories, but I'd always assumed that it was something subtly alluded to and not this blatant: the book begins with Holmes shooting up, and ends with him about to do the same. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I like my heroes with flaws, and this is a big one.

This book also shows quite a bit of racism on Conan Doyle's part in his depiction of the monstrous "black savage" from the Andaman Islands. It's also worth noting that even though the villain they capture in the end is white, every single murder in the story is committed by Indian Seikhs or the islander, Tonga. There's also a healthy dose of arrogant British colonialism in Doyle's depiction of the Great Mutiny, although some of that could be excused because he was relating the events from a criminal's point of view.
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David Sarkies I started reading the short stories so when I moved onto the novels I found that Doyle was using the same formula time and time again. I agree about Holmes' drug use - that is what made me interested in him in the first place.

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