This is Holmes’ and Watson’s second outing and once again we get all we want from the Baker Street sleuth. Some marvellous deductions, an unexpected backstory and some criminal chasing through the whole city on foot and by boat on the Thames.
The client that appeals to Holmes for help in this second case is Mary Morstan. Her father disappeared some years ago, but for a few years someone keeps sending her valuable pearls, one by one. Now she has received a letter asking her to meet her unknown benefactor. Having no one to call upon, she turns to Sherlock Holmes. He and Watson agree to accompany her. But the strange case soon comes across a murder and the traces go back to an aquaintance Mary’s father must have made when he was serving in India.
As Holmes cases go it certainly involves everything you are looking for – the Baker Street irregulars, a chase, Holmes little quips with the police, an unexpected backstory and fantastic deductions. It is a little weird in places, though, especially concerning the accomplice. I try not to spoil too much of the plot, so I won’t go into details as such. Many cases can be read and enjoyed today without thinking of the time it was written in, but this is certainly a case that would not be published in this way in our age and time. But again – we know these cases were written more than 100 years ago, so some allowance is to be made for different expressions and what was deemed appropriate.
I love the fact that Holmes has his allies everywhere and it helps him move about, gain entry and have eyes and ears everywhere. The Sign of the Four also treats us to Holmes’ first display of his acting skills. He manages to keep up his disguise and fools Inspector Jones and Watson into believing he is only an old sailor. Another highlight is his climbing around the building, trying to go the same path that the murderer took.
All in all, The Sign of the Four is a standard Holmes case, but it won’t rank among my top 10. Some elements of it are a little far-fetched for my taste and the ending is, despite being a happy occasion for Doctor Watson, quite depressing. It inlcudes everything that a good sleuth story needs, though, and is therefore a good sequel to A Study in Scarlet. I am looking forward to the short story collections now!