loulamac’s #CBRV review #42: The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


‘Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.’

Sherlock Holmes’ second adventure opens, aptly enough, with a chapter entitled ‘The Science of Deduction’. By now, we’ve met Holmes, and been amazed by his logical mind. In this opening chapter, with cocaine-induced energy, Holmes explains his deductive process to a disapproving Watson. Watson doesn’t like it when Holmes takes drugs (‘”Which is it today?’ I asked, ‘morphine or cocaine”’), but Holmes doesn’t like it when his brain lacks stimulation. Thank goodness then that before the chapter is out, the lovely Miss Mary Morstan arrives at 221b Baker Street, bringing an appetising mystery with her.

Miss Morstan is the daughter of an officer in the Indian regiment. Ten years before, on his return to London after many years abroad, he disappeared without a trace. Six years later, Miss Morstan began receiving, every year, ‘a very large and lustrous pearl’ in a small box. Holmes’ interest is piqued, and the twosome now a three (with Watson very much smitten with Miss Morstan), they start their investigations with the son of Morstan’s friend and colleague, Major Sholto. Before long, Holmes is travelling through the netherworld of London’s docks disguised as a seafarer, hunting a pygmy savage and a one-legged convict who have made off with Indian treasure.

Holmes is of course accompanied (not hampered on this occasion, not quite) by a member of the London constabulary, who as ever he holds in complete disdain: ‘When Gregson, Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths – which, by the way, is their normal state – the matter is laid before me.’ This time it’s the blustering Athelney Jones who is along for the ride, and we also encounter Holmes’ unofficial detecting assistants the street Arabs.

The story itself isn’t as gripping or emotional as A Study in Scarlet, but as with the earlier book, Holmes’ observations and Watson’s exasperation with him are a joy to read. As Holmes says of himself; ‘there are in me the makings of a very fine loafer and also of a pretty spry sort of fellow.’ When he’s spry, and on a case, he’s the most fun.

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