Another Arthur Conan Doyle novel and another masterpiece of English literature, featuring a far more complicated plot than the previous A Study in Scarlet, continues the thrilling story of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sign of the Four contains all of the classic elements of the last: love, transcontinental adventure, greed, betrayal, murder, and, of course, mystery! Doyle really knew his stuff when it came to writing and to history; reading this book almost takes me back in time to the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
This tale takes us back to our old friends Sherlock Holmes and his ever-loyal companion Dr. John Watson. In the first scene we learn that Holmes suffers from severe boredom when not on a sleuthing case and finds a way to cope in that always-wonderful cocaine. Historical context aside, it’s clear from the beginning that this is intended as another of Holmes’ faults, as Watson worries about his companion’s heavy usage of the drug.
Soon, however, a highly unusual mystery presents itself in the form of a young lady named Mary Morstan. Miss Morstan’s father disappeared many years earlier and, soon after, she began receiving valuable pearls once a year for the last six years. This mystery is solved quickly but only leads to a much grander one, centering around India, cannibal savages, and treasure. Using many methods—including the employment of a bloodhound named Toby, footprint analysis, and toxicology—Holmes solves the case expertly.
A subplot centers around Dr. Watson and Miss Morstan, who share a tentative attraction to one another. Dr. Watson, however, being an honest and respectable man, refuses to show his feelings until the matter of the treasure is put to rest, lest Miss Morstan fear of ulterior motives.
However, as it seems is always the case, another gets the credit for the closed case. Athelney Jones, a police officer, takes official charge of the case, only using Holmes’ work to further his own career. But Holmes cares not for credit: only for justice.
Spoiler alert! (I fear that it gives away the ending, but I also feel that it’s the funniest part of the book; it certainly made me laugh aloud.)
The story ends:
“The story seems unfair,” I remarked. “You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?”
“For me,” said Sherlock Holmes, “there still remains the cocaine-bottle.” And he stretched his long white hand up for it.
— Review by Phillip, teen blogger