This is the novel that famously originated at a dinner between an American publisher, Conan Doyle, and Oscar Wilde. Out of that meeting came The Sign of the Four (which is often shortened to just ‘The Sign of Four‘) and The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I think most people would agree is the superior output (ACD thought it might be good fun to resurrect that Holmes fellow he put in that novel that one time). Maybe even good old ACD himself, who was known to have been so affected by meeting Wilde that bits and pieces of the author can be found in the Holmes stories (Holmes’s dressing gowns and some of his affectations in particular). It wasn’t a huge success in his native England, and Holmes and Watson wouldn’t become a phenomenon until after he published the first short story in the The Strand a year later in 1891 (“A Scandal in Bohemia”).
The story is a bit meandering for me. Holmes is bored out of his mind without a puzzle to solve, crimes to untangle, when young Miss Mary Morstan, a governess, shows up at Baker Street asking them to help them solve the mystery of her missing father, and the pearls that have shown up once a year in the post since his disappearance. It’s more of an action adventure, treasure hunt, pseudo romance than I like my Holmes stories to be. I wanted to see more of Holmes’s infamous brainwork, less boat chases and flimsy love stories (Watson falls in love with Mary Morstan after only several meetings and barely any conversation, although, Victorians, hmmm, who am I to judge?) I did enjoy the final confession, though.
Mostly, this was fun to listen to because I kept spotting things that have cropped up in Holmes pastiches and fanfic and adaptations, etc. This is really where ACD began to set the mood, the “formula”, even though it wasn’t 100% yet, and is kind of bloated. Also, Victorian ideas about colonialism and race abound here (it centers on a treasure from India, and soldiers who were stationed there).
Things that originated in this book that I know well:
-Holmes needing to be occupied at all times with brainwork; “I abhor the dull routine of existence”
-Holmes’s drug habit to alleviate that boredom: his “7% solution”, the morocco case
-Playing Watson to sleep with his violin
-The name Sholto
-The introduction of Mary Morstan
-“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
-Toby the dog
-Wiggins mentioned specifically as the de facto leader of the Baker Street Irregulars, who were only mentioned as a group in the first book
-Holmes using disguise for the first time
-“You know my methods. Apply them.”
-The introduction of Inspector Athelney Jones
-Watson calling Holmes “a machine”
And probably more that I’ve forgot.
Anyway, it was fun to listen to, but not my favorite by far. Super excited to get to the short stories now. Much less chance of bloat, and a lot of classics coming my way.