Thursday, April 11, 2013

"The Sign of Four" by Arthur Conan Doyle

I always get the title of this book wrong and think it's The Sign of the Four.  Probably because, to me, that has a better rhythm to it.  But not my book, so I don't get to title it (alas).

Anyway, this is the second novel starring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.  In it, Miss Mary Morstan seeks Holmes' advice about a mysterious summons she's received.  Watson is smitten by her at their first meeting, and my goodness, that man is a fast mover!  }Spoiler alert!{  By the end of the story, he's asked her to marry him!  And they've known each other for, what, two weeks or something?  Goodness.  But, as a friend of my grandma's once said to me, "When you know, you know."  I guess they knew.

I don't really have a lot to say about this book.  I don't like it as well as A Study in Scarlet or The Hound of the Baskervilles, or even as well as some of the short stories.  It gets a bit long-winded at the end again, like the first novel, with the bad guy taking page after page to relate his history and just why he did what he did.  And I get it mixed up with "The Musgrave Ritual" a lot when I'm trying to remember various Holmes stories.  Still, it's a lively tale, never boring even when it meanders at the end, and the mystery is quite perplexing.  Plus, it introduces Sherlock Holmes' cocaine habit.  Introduces it in the very first paragraph, in fact, which seems bold now, but remember, cocaine and opium weren't illegal (or understood) back then.  Still, Watson clearly disapproves.

Also, I was struck by the fact that Holmes (and Doyle, of course) knows Hamlet enough to near-quote it.  At the end of chapter one, he says, "Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world?"  How can that not be an allusion (intentional or not) to this Hamlet line:  "How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world" (Act I, Scene 2).

Particularly Good Bits: 

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

So swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defence.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for a murder and other descriptions of violence.


  1. Holmes used coke?!?! I had no idea...I'll have to warn my brother...I bought him a collection of Doyle mysteries for Christmas, which I intend to "steal..." Hehehe...Only for a little while, of course... ;D

    I know!!! You really don't hear of people getting engaged after two weeks of seeing each other...However, that was the case with my parents...! And they were married four months later!!! Personally, I think I would need more time to make sure whoever I'm dating would be the right one, you know? Unless I knew already that he was a godly man and that he had a Scottish accent...Then all would be well. :D

    BTW...I watched the Gibson Hamlet movie!!! It was great...I didn't like the Oedipus scene, but other than that, I found it super entertaining! Thanks for the recommendation; I'll have to keep my eye out for the other ones you recommended, too. Mel Gibson was so young when he played in the movie...! And I was somewhat depressed that just about every main character died a tragic death at the end...But that's Shakespeare, yes? :D

    And now that I have written you a novel, I must say goodnight..."Goodnight!" :D


    1. Thanks for the novel! I love novels :-) Here's one for you in return.

      Yes, Holmes used a seven-percent solution of cocaine, but only when he was between cases and bored. Watson is against it, and gradually he convinces Holmes it's too dangerous, and Holmes agrees to stop using if Watson will stop gambling. Both characters really grow and progress over the course of all the stories.

      But yes, the first time I read these stories, as an adolescent, I was shocked.

      And that's so cool about your parents! My hubby and I knew each other for 9 months, then dated for a year, then were engaged for a year... but I knew within 3 months of starting to date that he was the one for me.

      I'm so glad you watched Hamlet! I've actually just finished watching a new-to-me version and am in the process of reviewing it for my other blog -- hoping to finish and post that today. It was not nearly as good as the one you watched. And yes, wasn't Gibson awfully young and cute? He's still probably my favorite in the role -- he brings such an intensity to it. But when they talk about Shakespeare killing everyone off at the end of his tragedies, Hamlet is what they mean. It has the highest body count of all his plays. And I think it's also the longest, and has the most lines for one character. Which is why so many actors want to tackle it, to sort of prove themselves capable.

  2. I, too, thought it was "The Sign of THE Four." I think it should have been. And you and I included the same quote on Holmes as a master criminal in our blog posts! Kindred Spirits :)

    1. I actually learned recently that it was originally "The Sign of The Four," but when it was published in America, the publishers dropped the second 'the,' and so now some use it and some don't. Sounds way better with, IMHO.

      And yup! Kindred spirits indeed. It's such a great insight into both Watson and Holmes in that section, isn't it? And oooooh, the endless alternate-universe possibilities it presents -- what if Homes HAD been a criminal? How chilling!


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