Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.
I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.
The Sign of Four (I have also seen it as The Sign of the Four), is the second of the Sherlock Holmes novels, and the second large publication featuring the sleuth. Like the first novel, this gives more insight into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, his ever present side-kick.
I will tell you from the beginning that I loved this novel more than the first one, which I also rather liked. The mystery was complex and interesting, and the story didn't break away halfway through like it did in A Study in Scarlet.
You also have, for the first time, a female in distress, who seems to have captured the heart of our dear Dr. Watson. This really through me for a loop, since I always pictured the two men together, bonded for life. It seems as if a female enters somewhere, and I don't recall a female with Watson in later novels and stories that I have read. Interesting.
The novel itself seems a little spookier than the first, and also gives more graphic descriptions. Our female heroine lost her father at a young age mysteriously, and in the years since, has been informed via letter that she is heir to a large fortune. Whoever sent the letter then continues to send her one large a valuable pearl a year, until after 6 six years she is finally told to come and meet him face-to-face. This is where she employs the help of Holmes and Watson, and where Dr. Watson becomes smitten.
As she is filled in on the details of the treasure she is entitled to, a murder is discovered and the mystery unfolds rapidly.
I liked that the novel didn't break away like the first did, to give back story, but that the history was woven into the telling of tale to the characters. Doyle did a much better job of educating the reader AND Holmes at the same time, so that there remained a connective thread throughout the narrative. That definitely helped maintain the suspense.
One thing that I have come to love is how Holmes always outwits the police detectives and inspectors. So often the police detectives come to logical and obvious conclusions in the cases Holmes is also investigating. They obviously want to find the clear and reasonable answer, which I think is understandable. But Holmes always challenges himself to think outside the box and look at everything that might be a possibility. After all, that is why he is Sherlock Holmes.
The reader also learns about Holmes mastery of disguises in this novel. He shows the ability to transform himself into other identities to help investigate his mysteries, which is something I don't recall from my other readings of Holmes' stories.
I do need to talk about Dr. Watson for a moment. He is just as important as Holmes in these novels, since he is the narrator. He asks the questions we would ask, and says the things we are thinking, so he is a necessary part of the story in order for the Holmes novels to work as they do. However, like I said above, Watson became smitten with the female in distress (Mary Morstan) and eventually proposes to her at the conclusion of the novel (That it not really a spoiler. Watson has two wives throughout the Holmes series). I find Watson's little love interest, as a side story, irritating. I thought it distracted from the power of the mystery and that Watson was kind of a jerk for falling for this girl who just realized she may be heir to a treasure.
With that being said, I had no idea before reading the series that Watson gets married, let alone two times. I always had this impression that Watson and Holmes were inseparable friends who always remained together. But, just as we think we know a lot about them, they change on us!
Anyway, this was an incredibly enjoyable, and fast-paced mystery that I absolutely loved! These Sherlock Holmes novels are packed with action and suspense and are simply fun to read.