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The sign of four is a novel written by Arthur Conan-Doyle about his famous detective Sherlock Holmes. This was the second novel written by Doyle after a Study in Scarlett and shows changes in how he wrote about Holmes.
In this novel, we have classic holmes in that the events depicted are in the present but the reasons are set in the near past, as with many holmes stories there is a link to the British Empire and here the link is India.
So whats it all about?
This Holmes novel is the first to really show the Holmes the casual reader knows, here the author seeks to humanise Holmes after the rather cold sterility of the Study in Scarlett, we are introduced to his cocaine habit and Watsons first wife. However there are many similarities in that unlike later short stories and novels there is a lengthy section not narrated by Watson but by the killer himself justifying his actions.
the story is a complex one because most of the serious drama takes place out of camera shot so to speak in colonial India a decade or so in the past. The Sign of Four is a group of 4 hardened group of men fighting in India and involve an Englishman called Jonathan Small. From these sparse details the story unwinds into a story of theft, murder, and in fighting within the group.
Again with the first novel there is a lengthy Mormon section, which is usually removed when portrayed on screen and its a wonder why Conan-Doyle in his first two novels featured them in such detail.
As with all cases Holmes cracks the case and the murderer quickly gives himself up with a lengthy confession, a confession which would lead to the gallows but that angle is rarely brought up in any Holmes story. Finally Holmes and Watson are given a test of morality after the killer tells his tale, they after all aren't policemen and we know in future stories Holmes will release a guilty man if he thinks the shock of discovery worth more than a custodial sentence.
This is a decent novel but shows progression into the final format for Holmes short stories and novels rather than a finished product. However, its still a great read and enjoyable in its own way.
As a dense yellow fog swirls through the streets of London, a deep melancholy has descended on Sherlock Holmes, who sits in a cocaine-induced haze at 221B Baker Street. His mood is only lifted by a visit from a beautiful but distressed young woman Mary Morstan, whose father vanished ten years before. Four years later she began to receive an exquisite gift every year: a large, lustrous pearl. Now she has had an intriguing invitation to meet her unknown benefactor and urges Holmes and Watson to accompany her. And in the ensuing investigation which involves a wronged woman, a stolen hoard of Indian treasure, a wooden-legged ruffian, a helpful dog and a love affair even the jaded Holmes is moved to exclaim, Isn't it gorgeous!'