My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took me back to my childhood when I often read of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and nothing much has changed with my appreciation and admiration towards this writer and these memorable characters. The Sign of Four (sometimes referred to as The Sign of the Four) was the second book in the Sherlock Holmes series. Set in 1888, Sherlock Holmes and his trusted friend, Dr Watson, are set on a mystery concerning the ‘Great Agra Treasure’. The story is a total of 167 pages and makes for a great read on a rainy day.
The book begins with Sherlock Holmes shooting a special ”seven-per-cent solution” of cocaine into his arm. ”Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff.” (p 1).
When I was around ten or eleven, I first discovered Sherlock Holmes and ever since I have enjoyed this flawed hero so unlike any other hero in literature. Here is a man able to solve the most complicated of mysteries and yet he is haunted by his own genius, a demon that does not strike the common man. And in that, too, there lies a mystery.
At the end of the first chapter is some of the dry cynicism I so love in Holmes: ”Crime is commonplace, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth” (p 12).
The mystery begins when Mary Morstan (in Chapter 2) tells Holmes and Watson about the disappearance of her father, Captain Morstan, and the arrival of a pearl each year for six years. On July 7th Miss Morstan received a letter asking her to bring two friends for a meeting in order to explain about her father and the pearls. Detective Holmes and Dr Watson join her that night and the chase begins to hunt down the thieves of the Agra treasure. Along the way, good fortune would have it that Miss Morstan and Dr Watson fall in love and by book’s end are engaged to be married. As for her lost fortune, well, you have to read the book to find out. No spoilers here.
But I will share what I love about Holmes. His intelligence is one of his characteristics I have admired all these years.
”’How, then?’ [Dr Watson] persisted.
‘You will not apply my precept,’ [Sherlock Holmes] said, shaking his head. ‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’ (p 55).
This is one of Holmes’s favorite sayings, and is very probable that Holmes says this in almost every story to Watson; but this is, with very little question, one of Holmes’s most famous quotes, and used in the recent films with Robert Downie Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and also used by Spock in Star Trek.
And here is such clean writing by Doyle that Sherlock’s character cannot help but spring off the page and into your mind:
‘He whipped out his lens and a tape measure and hurried about the room on his knees, measuring, comparing, examining, with his long thin nose only a few inches from the planks and his beady eyes gleaming and deep-set like those of a bird. So swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained blood-hound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defence. As he hunted about, he kept muttering to himself, and finally he broke out into a loud crow of delight’ (p 57).
And one of the aspects of Doyle’s writing that I further admired growing up is, sadly and apparently, not as accepted in today’s methods of writing. Doyle often has Sherlock interject key bits of wisdom or philosophy as Sherlock and Watson sit around waiting for some action to take place. Here is one now:
”’Are you well up in your Jean Paul?’
‘Fairly so [said Watson]. ‘I worked back to him through Carlyle.’
‘That was like following the brook to the parent lake. He makes one curious but profound remark. It is that the chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues, you see, a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself a proof of nobility. There is much food for thought in Richter. You have not a pistol, have you?”’ (p 79).
And Doyle, as might be a surprise to some, can be a romantic at times as well.
”’Thank God!’ I [Watson] ejaculated from my heart.
[Mary] looked at me with a quick, questioning smile.
‘Why do you say that?’ she asked.
‘Because you are within my reach again,’ I said, taking her hand. She did not withdraw it. ‘Because I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman…”'(p 131).
And Holmes, by the end, has a bit of wit to counter Watson’s engagement to Mary and his happiness towards marriage:
”’But love is an emotional thing,’ Holmes said, ‘and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment”'(p 166).
And Watson defends himself and his future with Mary, and then asks about Holmes’s future if it is to be empty of love.
”For me,’ said Sherlock Holmes, ‘there still remains the cocaine-bottle.’ And he stretched his long white hand up for it” (p 167).
Returning to Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson after many years of my absence from their stories, I find each is still as clever and witty and amusing and intriguing as when I first read them decades ago. The Sign of Four is not one of the better novels by Doyle (see: A Study in Scarlet [the first novel published in 1887] or, The Hound of the Baskervilles [the 3rd novel published in 1902]) but The Sign of Four is still a fun read.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5
- The Marvelous New World of Holmes and Watson (lloydlofthouse.org)
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in A Case of Identity (telegraph.co.uk)
- Conan Doyle estate seeks to preserve US copyright of Sherlock Holmes’s ‘complex personality’ (theguardian.com)
- Free Sherlock Holmes: the Copyright Battle of Baker Street (theconversation.com)
- The Adventures and memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Recommended by Lynn (shoelanelibrary.wordpress.com)
- The Adventures and memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (shoelanelibrary.wordpress.com)
- Watson and Holmes #1 Review (worldofblackheroes.com)
- If great lit is eliminated, what’s left? (educationviews.org)
- Sherlock Holmes Obsessed (pasang1lhamo.wordpress.com)