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10Dec/112

Book Review: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four begins when a young woman comes to Sherlock Holmes with a problem. Her father disappeared from his hotel in London on returning on leave from India. She then began receiving a pearl a year for the past six year from an anonymous benefactor. She wants Holmes and Watson to accompany the mysterious rendezvous. The benefactor informs the party of a fabulous treasure that the young woman is entitled to. However, the benefactor's brother is found dead and Scotland Yard jumps to conclusions and charges the kindly gentleman as the murderer.

Holmes has to uncover what really happened, free the innocent man, and find the real killer.

Review: After enjoying Sherlock Holmes in so many other media, I returned to the book at the encouragement of Author Chris White who advised writers to read Sherlock Holmes.

Having already read A Study in Scarlet  recently, I decided to go with the next published Holmes novel, The Sign of Four and found it to be one of the best detective novels of its time.

The story is wonderfully paced with plenty of excitement, from chasing down the criminals through the use of a dog to another appearance by the Baker Street irregulars, and a thrilling boat chase for the climax of the story.

More than a century after it was first written, the novel shows little sign of its age.  The Sign of Four is well-paced, exciting, and even action packed story.  It represents Doyle at his finest in many ways.

The puzzle has a touch of the bizarre with its use of exotic weapons and strange footprints, but not too bizarre as seemed to me to be the case in some later Holmes stories such as "The Creeping Man."

I think that while in Study in Scarlet, we learned about Holmes, in this book we begin to see Holmes' personality: the genius who is so driven to avoid hum drum existence, who seeks problems and trouble to find some problem to keep his attention. Holmes may have been called ADD today, but his genius shines through in the book.

The novel is also noteworthy for its focus on Holmes' use of Cocaine in the beginning and end.  Dr. Watson (and by extension Dr. Doyle) were concerned about the use of Cocaine in the late 19th Century and its negative effects. However, Doyle wasn't heavy handed in his approach, and so Watson's concern sounds more like a modern doctor's concern with some eating too many trans fatty foods. And Holmes is blaise about it, leading to some interactions and statement that may seem surreal or humorous to the modern reader.

If you can get past that, Sign of Four is truly a classic that every fan of detective fiction should read.

Rating 5.0 stars out of 5.0

Note: You can download this book free for your Kindle here. It also should be available for free for other e-readers.

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