I read The Sign of Four as my last book of 2015, actually finishing on the 31st December. I read the first one in the series – A Study in Scarlet in 2014, but alas, it was a period when I got too lazy to write about every single book I read, so I didn’t put any thoughts down – something that I kind of regret. These days I’ve gotten into the habit of writing about every book I read again, because I know my future self will thank me for it.
Therefore I only have a vague recollection of A Study in Scarlet. I know I quite liked it (a 4 stars read) and it was about a murder mystery (you think?) and a back story of American Mormonism. A bit odd, and old-fashioned, but readable.
The Sherlock Holmes books appear in various must-read book lists, the 1001 Books, the Guardians’s 1000 novels, and 100 best novels written in English, to name a few. But they all seem to pick different ones in the series. So after reading the first, I decided to just read them all in order. One for every year (hence the rush to finish one before the end of 2015). The Sign of Four is picked by Robert McCrum for his 100 best novels list, so my expectation was high.
I’m not sure if it met my expectation.
I don’t read or watch much mystery, but even for me the plot and the mystery seemed too familiar, as if I’ve seen it a couple of dozen times on various media (and no, I have not seen all Sherlock TV series, only the first season). Even more interesting, some people on GR mentioned that the plot is too convoluted. I wonder if I missed anything, as I thought exactly the opposite.
Just to give a brief idea, the mystery involves secrets and betrayal happening in India, while featuring ridiculous set of characters: a twin Indians in turbans, one-legged man and a dark-skinned dwarf man – a savage one at that. Really?
A silver lining is that this is the book where Watson meets Mary Morstan – his future wife, and their relationship is pretty sweet. So if you’re a completist, it’s definitely worth reading. I do plan to continue to book #3: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which features his short stories, and people say Sherlock short stories are really the best, more than the novels, so I look forward to that.
After watching some episodes of the TV series and reading the first 2 books, I can say that the TV Sherlock by Benedict really stays true to the books. So much so that the image of Sherlock as I was reading was that of Benedict Cumberbatch. And when I explained some parts of the book plot to hubby, I started saying Benedict instead of Sherlock “Then Benedict says…” Yeah, it’s that close.
To conclude, The Sign of Four isn’t my favorite Sherlock Holmes, but I still have quite a few books to see whether it’s the worst of the bunch. The rating on GR *is* the lowest amongst the 9 books. So how did Robert McCrum chose this particular one? Perhaps it is more to do with the history. Do you know that Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Doyle’s The Sign of Four were the results of the same dinner at Langham hotel in 1889? Now that kind of story, I love.
Mee’s rating: 3/5