The Classics Club: The Sign of the Four


Before I jump into my discussion of The Sign of the Four, I’d just like to take a moment to discuss how I read it.  Since the Sherlock Holmes books are in the public domain, a few months ago, I downloaded A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four as one volume from (what was then) the Android Market to read on my Android phone with the Google Books app.  I had previously read some ebooks on my iPod Touch using the Stanza app.  I greatly preferred Stanza to Google Books because it allows for bookmarking (a new version of Google Play Books apparently has this feature, but I haven’t been able to find it yet).  Stanza, however, is not available for Android phones.  Additionally, the version of the text I downloaded contained a few minor typos, though none of them prevented me from understanding the meaning.  It became, however, tiresome to have pound signs and ampersands pop up where they shouldn’t have been.

Now, onto The Sign of the Four.  I only wish that my first post for The Classics Club could be a bit more enthusiastic, as unfortunately, I must say that this book was a bit of a disappointment for me.  I previously wrote about how I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and wasn’t quite sure about how much I liked it.  But I decided to plough along and read a few more Holmes books.  I enjoyed A Study in Scarlet well enough, so I thought I would like The Sign of the Four, but this turned out to be wrong.

The reasons for my dislike are many-fold.  Reading it on my phone, I read bits and pieces here and there, so I never really had a cohesive reading experience, and as such, the plot lost me.  The setup – involving a young woman who mysteriously receives a pearl in the mail once a year – is fine enough, but the meanderings of the plot were a bit dry for my taste.  But the book also suffers from the rather racist descriptions of certain characters, like the man from the Andaman Islands, described as a “savage, distorted creature” with “features marked with all bestiality and cruelty”; the description goes on, but there’s no point in quoting any more.  I understand that the book is a product of its time, but it’s still a bit shocking to read.

What I did enjoy about The Sign of the Four was my continued appreciation for the character of Sherlock Holmes.  The book begins with a recap of Holmes’s Science of Deduction, as Holmes once again demonstrates his sharpness.  But midway through the book is a comical scene that actually shows Holmes being wrong about something for once.  I’m no expert on Sherlock Holmes, but in my experience, this was the first time he is shown to make a mistake.  Though I may not completely enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories, his character will make me stay around for at least read two more books.  Onto Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes!  But before that, I leave you with a wonderful passage describing his iconic character:

“He whipped out his lens and a tape-measure, and hurried about the room on his knees, measuring, comparing, examining, with his long, thing nose only a few inches from the planks, and his beady eyes gleaming and deep-set like those of a bird.  So swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained blood-hound 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.”

This was the Book #1 off my Classics Club list.  To see the rest of it, click here.


4 thoughts on “The Classics Club: The Sign of the Four

    • I’m glad to hear that! My ambivalence towards it is likely just because I’m not the biggest fan of Doyle’s presentation of the stories. It’s an intricate story that I just wish I could have gotten into a bit more.

  1. The passage you quoted is beautiful! I wish I could visit Great Britain go on a Sherlock Holmes tour! Personally, I never found a boring Sherlock Holmes story, though there are many of them. I keep wanting to read more of it!

  2. Pingback: The Classics Club: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes « Many Media Musings

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