Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Sign of Four (Mystery Book)

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” [Holmes to Watson]
Pearls. Watson in Love. A Murder. A Secret Pact. Stolen Treasure. Blow Darts. A Missing Boat.

The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, was originally published in 1890 and has had numerous film adaptations. Like A Study in Scarlet, this is a masterfully told story. When I originally began to read the Holmes novels, I thought that Holmes would take center stage throughout each story, but in fact the backstories, which explain the motives for the murders, are almost as well-developed and interesting.

Briefly, a pretty young thing, Miss Mary Morstan, asks Holmes and Watson for help. Ten years earlier, her estranged father, who was trying to reestablish contact with her, had unexplainably disappeared. In Mary’s keepsakes from him there is a cryptic reference to a sign of four. After the father’s close friend passes away, Mary begins to receive pearls, one each year. As the story begins, Mary has received a letter from an unknown man, who wants to meet with her in order to right a wrong that has been done her. Holmes and Watson accompany her to the meeting. When the group goes on to meet with the man’s twin brother, they find that he has been murdered. Another message referring to the sign of four is left near the body. Who murdered the brother and why? What is the sign of four and what does it have to do with the murder?

After reading A Study in Scarlet, I was actually less impressed with The Sign of Four, although it is still a good book. This morning, after finishing the book last night, I thought to myself, “I am not sure I would want to use this book with young children.” It starts off with Holmes taking drugs because he is bored and continues on with some fairly pronounced racism. —Mind you, In a Study in Scarlet, Holmes tests a possible poison on a local dog—I know I know, Doyle is a product of his times, and a good English teacher would use these as teaching points.

Off to some science fiction books that I just took out from the local library.

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