The Sign of the Four

Each Wednesday, I review my week in reading and look ahead to future reading with a review(s) of (a) book(s) and/or other posts in a feature I call Midweek Review. This week’s book review (only one this week) is:

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Publication Year: 1993 (originally 1890)
Pages: 119
Genre: Mystery
Count for Year: 40

How I discovered

This is the second book I’m reading as part of the Baker Street Challenge.

The review

The setup

When a woman who has received mysterious pearls in the mail is asked to meet her correspondent, Holmes and Watson are called in on the case. A terrible death and vanishing treasure lead to an epic chase through the dawn streets and along the River Thames in this spellbinding mystery.

— from the book jacket

The review

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel- piece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

As Holmes later tells Watson: “It is cocaine, a seven percent solution.”

For me, it was ironic, if nothing else, that I should begin here just after writing a post last Friday where I discussed how I wanted to be more selective in my reading after having a twinge of conscience in reading a book that didn’t sit with me spiritually. Then the next book I opened was this one and begins with the protagonist injecting cocaine. I had to laugh.

However, I continued on to find the story really (not surprisingly) wasn’t about cocaine, but about the mystery as outlined in the setup. Of course, Holmes being Holmes declares: “There is a great mystery in the matter.” The only mystery, of course, is to the reader, who like Watson who is the narrator, Doyle and Holmes lets in only little by little until it is finally revealed in the end, as any good mystery does.

At the center of the mystery is a treasure that four men in India stole and then others discovered, to their detriment. One is a Captain Morstan, a man who disappeared 10 years ago and father to Mary Morstan who enlists Holmes’ help as described above in the setup. The other is a Major Sholto, who is poisoned with a thorn in his neck.

Unlike in the first one, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes uses not only the power of his intellect, but also a dog named Toby to assist him in tracking down the murderer. Howeve, like in the first one, the murderer tells his tale at the end. Then all the pieces fit neatly into place, and not too neatly, but not enough for verisimilitude.

Minor spoiler: As for the cocaine, by the end, does Holmes give it up? I’ll let Doyle answer with the last two paragraphs:

“You have done all the work in the business…Jones [the detective called in to investigate the murder of Major Sholto] gets the credit, pray what remains for you?”

“For me,” said Sherlock Holmes, “there still remains the cocaine bottle.” And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

In the end, I rate this one a 5 out of 5.

My rating system:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

If you also have reviewed this book and would like a link to be included here, please leave it in the comments or e-mail me at unfinishedperson (at) gmail (dot) com.