Crime Fiction Alphabet 2012: Letter A

Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet begins this week with the letter A.Letter A

Here are the rules:

By Friday of each week participants try to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.

Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book’s title, the first letter of an author’s first name, or the first letter of the author’s surname, or even maybe a crime fiction “topic”. But above all, it has to be crime fiction.
So you see you have lots of choice.
You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow.
(It is ok too to skip a week.)

My choice for the letter A is Arthur Conan Doyle and The Sign of Four, sometimes called The Sign of the Four. Set in 1888 this is the second Sherlock Holmes book written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1890.

Description from Goodreads:

Yellow fog is swirling through the streets of London, and Sherlock Holmes himself is sitting in a cocaine-induced haze until the arrival of a distressed and beautiful young lady forces the great detective into action. Each year following the strange disappearance of her father, Miss Morstan has received a present of a rare and lustrous pearl. Now, on the day she is summoned to meet her anonymous benefactor, she consults Holmes and Watson.

My thoughts:

Although I have a copy of this book on my Kindle, I listened to an audiobook of the novel, narrated by Derek Jacobi. Holmes is bored, hence the cocaine and Dr Watson is concerned about the effect on his health, although he hesitates to protest at his use of the drug because:

Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject, but there was that cool, nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one could care to take anything approaching to a liberty. His great powers, his masterly manner, and the experience of his many extraordinary qualities, all made me diffident and backward in crossing him.

So they are both keen to investigate the mystery Mary Morstan presents to them. Holmes is intrigued by the mystery, involving the murder of Bartholomew Sholto, the Agra treasure stolen during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and a secret pact between the four thieves – the ‘Four’ of the title, resulting in a chase down the River Thames in a super-fast steam launch.

It’s narrated by Dr Watson, who falls in love with Mary during the course of the investigation, but it is only at the end of the novel that he plucks up his courage to propose to her. Derek Jacobi does an admirable job, with easily distinguishable voices and reasonable versions of the women’s voices. The story is complex and fast-paced, with Holmes seemingly solving the mystery from clues which he then explains to Watson. But I thought the last chapter was too long, explaining Jonathan Small’s involvement in the theft of the treasure and his attempts to retrieve it, but as Dr Watson is the narrator and he didn’t know any of this I suppose it was the only way of including it.

There are a number of minor characters that stand out, even though they have minimal involvement and are only sketched in. I’m thinking of the Scotland Yard Inspector, Athelney Jones, who Holmes describes as ‘not a bad fellow’. He arrests the whole of Sholto’s household, even his brother. There is also Toby, the dog, described as an ‘ugly long haired, lop-eared creature, half spaniel and half lurcher, brown and white in colour, with a very clumsy waddling gait.’ Also notable are the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of ‘dirty and little street-Arabs‘ Holmes employs to chase down the criminals. He pays them a shilling a day, with a guinea prize for the first boy to find the vital clue.

All in all, an enjoyable ‘read’ and as I was listening I could visualise the scenes. It begins and ends with Holmes reaching for his cocaine.

5 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet 2012: Letter A”

  1. I have only read a couple of Holmes short stories, because of the most recent tv adaptation. I have yet to progress to a novel, this may be the one though to get me started.

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  2. I’ve always had a deep affection for this story though I know many don’t hold it in very high regard among the novels – personally, I prefer to HOUND just because it has a richer story (even if it is a bit similar to wilkie Collins’ THE MOONSTONE). My earliest theatre-going experince is of the stage adaptation, THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD, which I thought was absolutely marvellous at the time. It was later filmed with Charloton Heston in the lead, which wasn’t all that great. I love the version with Jeremy Brett and and the late Edward Hardwicke though.

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