Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve finally completed another book. More specifically, I finally completed the second of two novellas included in the first volume of my dad’s Sherlock Holmes set. I read A Study in Scarlet back in January, and I don’t think it was really a good time for me and mysteries, as I was just sort of “meh” about it. (Of course, the long, drawn-out section in Utah doesn’t help its case.) The Sign of Four on the other hand was much more to my liking. Although I do seem to be on a bit of a mystery kick at the moment, I think in this instance the real selling point is that The Sign of Four is an adventure story. And I love adventure stories.
Yes, there is a mystery, although, as far as these go, it is pretty straightforward. Quite frankly, I was able to guess many of the points shortly before Holmes shared them with Watson. The mystery is not what makes The Sign of Four entertaining; it is the chase that follows. Holmes–and Watson–know the who, but they don’t know where the suspects are precisely. Nor do they know the why. The discovery of these points fill the latter half of the adventure.
And adventure it is. A murder. A chase–literally. A romance for Dr. Watson. Exotic locales. Locked Rooms. Dark countryside. Lost treasure. In an improvement from A Study in Scarlet, the “why” isn’t told by a third person omniscient narrator, but included more organically in the story, through the narration of some of those involved. All in all, I found this a much more entertaining story than its predecessor.
But. It seems unavoidable in Victorian-era novels, at least by British authors, that some sort of racial or class prejudice sneaks in, in this instance an apparent stereotyping of a native of the Andaman Islands. On the one hand, I intellectually acknowledge that these attitudes were characteristic of the time, that many honestly believed that their culture, if not their race, were superior to those of “uncivilized” peoples. Not to mention, an unpredictable “savage” is more entertaining than a run-of-the-mill criminal. (Also, interestingly, when I looked up the Andaman Islands on Wikipedia, the article indicated that some of the native peoples had not had friendly contact with outside groups until the 1990s: I can certainly see where a violence-first defensive strategy might seem “savage” to a 19th century outsider.) On the other hand, there’s the 21st century part of me that puts up warning signs whenever I come across such examples of past prejudices. At the very least, any contemporary adaptation of the book into movie form (and I think it would be very adaptable–in fact it has been several times already) would probably need to modify one of the characters to avoid unwanted controversy.
That aside, I’ve very much looking forward to reading the rest of the Holmes stories and novels. I’m especially looking forward to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” as I’ve read about Irene Adler, but never the story she is featured in! I’m also thinking I would like to go back even further to the oldest detective stories (Poe and Collins, as best I can determine). Fortunately, any of the above will fit right in with the R.I.P. Challenge, and either Poe or Collins certainly feels seasonal.