Sherlock Holmes – Sign of Four review

Continuing the pre-module reading the next book in my list was the Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of Four. I watched the BBC adaption first on DVD. On my first attempt to watch it, I wasn’t feeling very well and fell asleep part way through. On the second attempt I spent most of the time playing on the internet. It mostly played as background noise. I’ve tried to figure out why this was. I love the Robert Downey Jr films, I love the new BBC series, I have even grown to love the US re-make Elementary so why couldn’t this one catch my interest. It seemed like a decent little show and on the occasions I did tune back into what was on my screen I could follow the plot quite easily. I wonder of the modern versions have made this one seem out of date.

I switched to the book. At only 150 pages it doesn’t take long to read and I found this much easier to get into and enjoy. It’s a very wordy story; most of the action takes place through verbal recollections. So it’s possible then that the film just didn’t convey that well enough. It’s a simple tale – disabled soldier loses leg, joins an Indian prison guard, gets coerced into killing a man and stealing his treasure, spends 20 years in prison himself before escaping to find his stolen loot!!

One thing that struck me from the first few pages was the casualness of using cocaine! I am being far too lazy to research the knowledge of the drug back then but based on modern knowledge stories of drug addiction, it’s quite shocking to read of someone so casually experimenting with the drug.  This is the first Sherlock book I have actually read and while the TV shows and films will recount Holmes’ drug addictions it still shocked me to see that this wasn’t a 21st century fad and he really did (fictionally) have drug issues.

On the flip side of the coin was the amazingly innocent relationship between Watson and Mary Morstan. They met twice, Watson fell madly in love but worried the possibility of her becoming rich would make him unworthy and on the third meeting they were engaged! They barely seemed to have spoken to each other, how could they be in love? I’m reading this with 21st century eyes where you spend ages getting to know someone, live with them for a few years and even possibly get the kids out the way before you get married. Getting engaged to a practical stranger seems absurd.

So overall I enjoyed this story quite a lot, the book far more that the film. It goes along at a very fast pace (I believe it takes place over 3-4 days) and before you know it the bad guy is on his way to prison. What I wasn’t expecting being a huge horror story fan is to find a regular crime tale that gave me so many shocks and made me think about life as it is now and how it was over 100 years ago.

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2 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes – Sign of Four review

  1. Kirsty, I believe many of Conan Doyle’s stories were first published in The Strand magazine, where they were serialised, although according to good old wikipedia, Sign of Four was published in another magazine. It’s one of his earlier stories in the Sherlock series. Perhaps it didn’t hold your interest because there’s not much storyline to it. Jeremy Brett was a fine actor -maybe the TV series looks a little too theatrical in relation to more modern productions. Those shows are about 30 years old now -creaking a bit?

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