The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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!'
I'm a huge fan of the Holmes mysteries, and have read many of them over the years in a piecemeal approach. Having acquired a complete works, I plan to work my way in stages from beginning to end, to ensure chronology, and that I haven't missed anything. I'm not obsessed, though.
My main love for the novels stems from my enjoyment of unlikeable protagonists. Holmes is an absolute dickhead; selfish, conceited, cold, and emotionless, he's everything a reader should hate. Doyle does something undetectable in his works which allows us to absolutely adore this prick of a detective for everything he is. Whether that be his intelligence, his capacity for deduction, the fact his arrogance is totally justifiable, or for his subtle admiration of Watson, is anyone's guess.
The Sign of Four isn't my favourite of those I've read, but it was definitely an enjoyable read with many obvious Sherlock tropes attached. We're given a classic mystery that seems impossible to unravel, but with Holmes showing us the simplest of solutions, and that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Mysterious deaths, anonymous letters, strange recurring symbols, hidden treasure, a dog who can smell anything from one end of London to the other, and a man with a wooden leg, all prove to be factors in an exciting quest for the truth.
My only sticking point was the explanation from the accused upon the arrest. It dragged on entirely, and wasn't in keeping with the fast pace of the rest of the novel. This character was one who uses twenty words where one will suffice; whether that was due to him knowing he was being carted off to the police station once his story had ended, or whether Doyle was just trying to pad the story out to novel-length, I can't decide.
I particularly enjoyed reading of the melancholy Holmes experiences when he has nothing to engage his brain; he turns to smoking, of all things, cocaine, to allow his brain to dance. Doyle has bravely swept the board with this scene, showing a well-respected gentleman of that era to partake in such a stimulant.
Doyle is a true favourite of mine, and I'm sorry to move on to other novels. As the collected works are about as thick as my back door step, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will be the next in line after I turn my attention to some other books.