After reading the Picture of Dorian Gray, I decided to move onto The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like so many classics, I am familiar with Sherlock Holmes, but I have not actually read more than one or two short stories. This is a full book, about the same length as Dorian Gray and as I found out when looking into Dorian Gray, they were both commissioned at a dinner meeting with an editor of a monthly literary journal.
Both Wilde and Doyle submitted stories and both were eventually published as full length book in 1890.
The Sign of Four opens with Holmes doing drugs (cocaine in this case, but it is clear from the story that Homes also was doing heroin). Holmes claimed it was his only option when there were no cases to a very concerned Watson.
The story eventual moves to an orphaned young woman. She has been receiving pearls of great value once a year and has been told that the donor wants to meet her. She asks Holmes and Watson to accompany her. After an odd journey they are eventually taken to meet a man, whom they find murdered inside a room that has been locked from the inside.
That starts a chase for the murders and to discover why the young woman has been receiving these jewels.
The writing is good. But it is why as an adult I don’t like reading mysteries like this. There are small little clues and either Holmes comes up with some outlandish observation (like telling Watson based on Watson’s new watch that his alcoholic brother had recently died when Watson had not even told Holmes that he had a brother) or a completely obvious clue that results in explication to tell the reader what is going on.
I like a thriller and I like the chase, but the mystery feels more like Encyclopedia Brown than a great work of fiction. I kept thinking that this is an example of a more common best seller than great classic. There is nothing wrong with popular fiction. I read a lot of it. But those that complain about the lack of literary merits of Twilight or Hunger Games or Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Harry Potter should also think about the role of popular fiction when it was Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or others.
That is not to say it isn’t worth reading. It is an example of a good book from a different era. There are clear colonial and racist attitudes and like many books of the Victorian era, Watson falls in love at first sight and proposes after barely talking to the girl.
It is a brief book, about 120 pages, so it isn’t a book that you have to invest weeks and weeks into. And both the audiobook and the kindle version are free as part of the Whispersync for Voice promotion. You do not need to have a kindle to get the audiobook (or an account with Audible.com). But you do need to purchase the kindle book (even if you don’t have a kindle and don’t want to read it on ebook). When you do, the audiobook will become free as well.