Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rosy's scrawled book recommendation: The Sign Of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign Of Four
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


A dense yellow miasma swirls in the streets of London as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson accompany a beautiful young woman to a sinister assignation. For Mary Marston has received several large pearls - one a year for the last six years - and now a mystery letter telling her she is a wronged woman.

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
Spencer Blackett (book)

Originally N/A

Rosy's scrawlings on The Sign Of Four
The Sign Of Four is the second book in the Sherlock Holmes series but it is the first to present a fully formed Sherlock, complete with drug taking, costuming habits, wild adventures on steam boats and his propensity to just up and go wandering on whatever quest he's about. This time though, he's liable to actually tell Watson what's going on before the conclusion, is far friendlier even if he remains arrogant and he's oddly a touch self effacing when it comes to the rewards of his job. Sherlock is a tad more likable and because of it the story is more engaging than A Study In Scarlet.
In the meantime Watson falls in love and finds Sherlock less than approving on the grounds that love is emotion and emotion just isn't logical. Sherlock would sound rather like Spock's father or grandfather if he didn't get so riled up by boredom he needs drugs, cocaine in particular, to calm down. Watson also attempts to emulate Sherlock's methods of deduction to occasional mild successes. He's still bewildered by Sherlock's intelligence but he does begin to make his own tracks and to see that Sherlock isn't the equivalent of a magician.
The case in The Sign Of Four is one that connects the Indian Rebellion with stolen and then hidden treasure, murder, convicts and a missing father. Throughout, the Indian characters are portrayed in a rather slanted and stereotypical light. This is born of a touch of racism and superiority, as was likely commonly felt post the Indian Rebellion of 1857. India was colonised, or to be more accurate: conquered, through a series of trade and then military movements by the British. This began in the early 1600's and continued until the Rebellion which began the first Indian War of Independence. The British popular opinion of the Indians after the rebellion is what you see in The Sign Of Four. There's an emphasis on unruliness, skin colour, wildness, uncivilised behaviour and brutality. To enjoy The Sign Of Four now, when such opinions aren't generally held (I won't say never as racism is a fairly constant feature in human history) the reader has to take a little step back from the story to analyse Doyle's opinion and form one of their own, of Doyle, British and Indian history and the characters. This is just about the only problem a modern reader will encounter in The Sign Of Four, as otherwise the story is full of lively action, well-rounded characters and quick deductions.

I'd recommend this book to: anyone capable of reading it but those who love detective and crimes stories in particular.

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