on 16 May 1999
This collection of stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyles youngest son, Adrian Conan Doyle, in collaboration with American mystery writer John Dickson Carr, are a wonderful treat for anyone who loves the originals! The twelve stories here refer to cases that Doyle made teasing reference to in the original series but never made available to the reading public. The stories are filled with black hearted villians, damsels in distress, atmosphere, and above all, the friendship between Holmes and Watson that have made them the most famous characters in the history of literature. Several stories like "The Adventure of the Deptford Horror" and "The Adventure of the Red Widow" are dark tales of murder; while others such as "The Aventure of the Wax Gamblers" and "The Aventure of the Highgate Miracle" will make you smile. What I enjoyed the most is that the authors have tried to stay true to the characters and didn't try to change them as other writers have done. The stories seem to have been written with one goal in mind, to fill the reader with delight! Originaly written in the early 1950s and out of print for many years, I am happy that Random House has released this once again, and in a Hardbound edition. Come dear reader,"the games afoot!"
Derek Jacobi has one of those voices that you just want to listen to. I have enjoyed several audiobooks which he has narrated and can now add The Sign Of Four to my collection. This is one of four full length Sherlock Holmes novel that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote - the other three being A Study In Scarlet, The Hound Of The Baskervilles and The Valley Of Fear. The Sign Of Four has been adapted several times for film, radio and television. The story sees Holmes and Watson investigating the case of Mary Marston who has received a large pearl each year for the last 6 years. She has now received a letter telling her she is a wronged woman. If she wants to seek justice and meet her mysterious benifactor and bring two companions. She turns to Holmes and Watson. Obviously there is alot more to the plot but I won't spoil it for you.
This 4 cd set runs at 4 hours and 30 minutes. The cds are nicely packaged in a plastic amery style case. If you enjoy a good mystery then why not let Derek Jacobi be your guide into the mystery of The Sign Of Four.
on 31 August 2001
"The Sign of Four" is the second of Conan Doyle's four longer Sherlock Holmes stories - I wouldn't call it a novel, because it's shorter even than the other three.
The level of detection and the intrigue surrounding the mystery is as clever as ever, and possibly more complex than in its predecessor, "A Study in Scarlet". The structure of the book could be seen as a little clumsy, with the story of Small tacked onto the end as an extra thirty pages - but using the first-person viewpoint like he does, there was no other way for Conan Doyle to integrate it into the story.
This story is also worth reading for its long-term developments in the Holmes stories. We learn of Holmes' cocaine addiction and his reasoning behind it. This is also where Watson meets his wife, which - along with the treasure seeking - makes it the more romantic of the longer stories. The relationship is hardly developed realistically, but Conan Doyle always seems to sacrifice character development in favour of brilliant plots.
If you simply enjoy the mystery and try not to think about such things, the book is very good indeed. It's a very easy read; Conan Doyle's style flowing brilliantly and so offering a perfect form of escapism.
There is a long and honoured tradition among mystery writers and fans of the Sherlock Holmes tales of writing one's own mystery. This can take one of several starting points - to take a detail in the canonical stories and develop it more fully (there are a lot of dangling pieces in there), to take the characters of Holmes and Watson (and perhaps others) and involve them in completely new fictional scenarios, or involve the characters in actual historical events. Adrian Conan Doyle, youngest son of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, teamed with veteran mystery writer John Dickson Carr to produce a series of short stories developing themes that came out of the official canon of 56 short stories and four novels.
The background information tells us that these stories were written at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's own desk, so there is a sense of tactile succession from the official stories to these extra-canonical offerings. Well written, they sometimes lack the same smooth character of the better of the official stories (but then again, some of the official stories vary from the high standard of the better of them to a great degree).
This collection of a dozen stories picks up on details out of 'The Speckled Band', 'Silver Blaze', and many others. One of the glories of the Holmes canon is the in the details - those who love the stories spend hours reading and re-reading to catch new ideas and insights, and will likely be thrilled with the way in which Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr have worked in many pieces here.
Half the stories were written by Adrian Conan Doyle himself; the other half were written as a collaboration. I think this is an excellent volume as an extra-canonical addition to the stories. It maintains in good faith the same character of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade and others from the canon; while putting them in new situations, it does not create new personalities or identities or quirks about them, which sometimes prove distracting in some offerings.
The typical fan of Holmes will be pleased, and those new to Holmes will not be misled, and likely be inspired to further reading.
on 7 May 2014
This was probably the first anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches that I ever read back in the dim and murky past when dinosaurs walked the Earth in mortal terror of Doug McClure. Basil Rathbone was still my main source of Holmes with most of Conan Doyle senior's stories still not having a place on my bookshelves. So now that all those brilliant works by dear Arthur are all indelible features of my memory, perhaps it's time I revisited his son's attempts to recreate his father's style with the help of his dad's old desk and of collaborator John Dickson Carr. Only the first two are full on collaborations with perhaps one of them, The Seven Clocks, being the best story in the collection. It's got a suitably bizarre fellow in it who goes in for some full on random clock smashing but it's the spot on atmosphere that makes the tale. The other being the rather poor The Gold Hunter. Carr's The Wax Gamblers is like one of those old school friends you bump into every five years or so, turning up in various anthologies. It has a very humorous tone and features boxing, an injured Holmes and Watson getting the butt of the jokes but saving the day anyway. Good story. Unfortunately Carr steps over the line too much in the farcical Highgate Miracle. Carr has almost no involvement in the very forgettable Black Baronet but must surely have loaned Conan Doyle some expertise to craft The Sealed Room. Carr is regarded as one of the greatest to pen the sub-genre of the locked room and one of his stories was voted the all time best by his peers. Conan Doyle's father also penned a story of the same name. What results is also quite a good story and another that pops up from time to time.
From here on in Conan Doyle junior is left to his own devices as illness took a toll on Carr. What follows are six very derivative stories, mostly dull, with many of the right elements but no finished shine. The pick of them is The Debtford Horror, deeply derivative of The Speckled Band, but quite atmospheric with a nice frisson of creepiness to accompany one of the most creative methods of bumping off unwanted family members ever seen. Though thanks to Conan Doyle senior for sewing the seed by first mentioning in Black Peter the arrest of Wilson the notorious canary-trainer. Although Wilson is not arrested in the story Conan Doyle junior lays the blame at Watson's feet calling it 'a typical Watson error.' Holmes quite uncharacteristically spouts proverbs throughout. Fun though.
What always occurs to me after reading a Sherlock Holmes anthology, and the number is legion, is that no matter how closely the writers mimic Conan Doyle senior's style, or how many Holmesian elements are included, none of them come close to performing the alchemy that Arthur Conan Doyle did. In many ways the formula to the literary alchemy of the perfect Victorian Sherlock Holmes story is lost to time because no one has first hand experience of the Victorian era nor the acquaintance of the men the great detective was based upon.
on 16 June 2013
Why write another review of Conan Doyle's four long stories of the adventures of one of the most famous characters in fiction? The simple answer is because the man has outgrown the stories. Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed, interpreted, reinterpreted, parodied, and used as inspiration for so many other characters - serious and not-so-serious - that the original has at times been submerged in the flood of imitations. This collection was my introduction to that original having become a Holmes fan through the ITV Jeremy Brett series; one I'd certainly recommend and one that's left me hungry for more. (I've seen that some reviews are of the Kindle edition - mine is of the book).
The four stories go right back to the beginning, with A Study in Scarlet, where the world first meets Holmes (as does Watson, though whose eyes and writings the stories are told), as well as The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear.
Holmes is of course a striking, almost overwhelming, character and no doubt the success of the books over the years is the brilliant characterisation. Holmes is not a particularly pleasant man but then one wouldn't really expect someone of his extraordinary talents doing what he does to be. If his aloofness, coldness, arrogance and pride make him remote, they also make him believable. After all, it's not so much that he's somewhere on the autistic scale as somewhere off it. Those negatives credibly balance his near-superhuman knowledge, powers of observation and intelligence, and the whole is offset within the partnership by Watson. Likewise, the friendship between the intense detective and the more laidback former army doctor is entirely believable.
The stories themselves are a fine, if not entirely natural, collection. With almost thirty years between Conan Doyle writing the first and last, they're a good demonstration of the development in his writing style, even if (or perhaps precisely because), those two stories bear quite a close resemblance in structure and storyline.
Although described as 'long stories', none is really of novel-length, varying as they do between 100 and 170 pages in the edition I have. Still, that's long enough to allow the stories to develop and for plenty of twists and turns, and are very well written throughout. Of the four, The Hound of the Baskervilles is justly the most famous - an excellent detective-crime drama, rightly regarded as a classic - though I enjoyed The Sign of Four almost as much. I hope you gain as much enjoyment from them as I have.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was at a dinner on 30th August 1889 with (amongst others) Oscar Wilde and JM Stoddart. Conan Doyle called this a "golden evening" in this autobiography.
Never heard of Mr Stoddart? Few people have.
Mr Stoddart was the Managing Editor of the US monthly magazine "Lippincott" and was the man who commissioned Conan Doyle to write "The Sign of the Four". In 1890, Conan Doyle had fulfilled the commission and, "The Sign of the Four" and it was published in the US and the UK. Wilde wrote and submitted "The Picture of Dorian Gray" as his part of the commission.
Interestingly the story has changed its name a number of times: "The Sign of the Four", "The Sign of Four", "Sign of the Four" and "Sign of Four". It is now back to the original "The Sign of the Four".
Miss Mary Marston has received one large pearl every year for the past 6 years. Mary believed that it was from her missing father, but after receiving a strange note she is no-longer sure. Holmes is intrigued and Watson is enamoured.
It is not one of Conan Doyle's greatest stories (probably because it was completed as a commission), but it is still enjoyable.
Sir Derek Jacobi reads the story with superb aplomb.
It is 4 hour 30 minutes spread over 4 discs, and is superb for those days when you want to shut yourself off from the world and listen to the exploits of the World's First Consulting Detective.
on 14 May 2011
A REVIEW OF `THE EXPLOITS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' by ADRIAN CONAN DOYLE & JOHN DICKSON CARR
Sixty is a nice round number. Certainly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have thought so, for that is the exact number of original stories that he penned featuring his immortal detective, Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, with the publication of `The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes' in 1927, he finally concluded the cases of the creation with whom he had evolved an uneasy love-hate relationship.
However, the public's appetite for the Baker Street sleuth increased rather than decreased in the years after his literary `retirement', fuelled no doubt by the new mediums of radio and cinema, which provided fresh avenues with which to present his original adventures, as well as many more drummed up by script and screenplay writers.
Thus, by 1954 (the year of the publication of `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes'), the characters of Holmes & Watson had escaped the confines of the written page, and were arguably iconic in their own right. It would be interesting to note how many wartime cinema-goers who had thrilled to the films starring Basil Rathbone, had actually read the original Conan Doyle stories, which dated as far back as 1887. Holmes the character was no longer linked intrinsically to his creator and had taken on a new degree of versatility - one which lives on into the 21st century thanks to his recent re-imaginings in the gritty films of Guy Richie and the BBC's fabulous contemporary version, `Sherlock'.
Returning to the post-war years, the dilution of the original Holmes and Watson was well underway, and it is not hard to imagine purists frowning at the liberties being taken with them. Perhaps this was the inspiration needed for Sir Arthur's son, Adrian to team up with co-author, John Dickson Carr, and offer readers twelve brand new cases based cleverly upon passing comments made in the original stories and written in their distinctive style. Indeed, all but one new adventure ends with an excerpt from one of the original sixty stories, which references the tale just told. Hence, `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' was conceived and delivered, providing the double impact of appealing to the 1950s audience brought up on the films and radio shows, as well as devotees of the sixty original cases. If the 1950s movie-goers enjoyed `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' and fancied a dabble with Sir Arthur's works as a result, so much the better. All in all, it was a rather clever experiment, and one that does, in many ways, pay off handsomely.
Reactions to and reflections upon `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' have been noticeably mixed. Ultra-purist Sherlockians have turned up their noses at the pre-supposed authenticity of the dozen new tales, pointing out their weaknesses and playing up the seemingly volatile relationship between the co-authors. However, for this reviewer, what makes `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' work is its ability to conjure up the SPIRIT of the originals. The same could be said for the James Bond film series. What makes a Bond movie a Bond movie? It can hardly be a reliance upon Ian Fleming's works*, as after 1967 (excluding `On Her Majesty's Secret Service') the screenplays bore scant resemblance to the original novels. Nor could it be the actor playing Bond, given the frequency of the changes. Instead, it must be the more subtle elements of music, style, scope and familiarity. When the white circles move across the screen, we know what we will get for the next two hours, and we love it, regardless of whether it be Connery, Moore, Brosnan or Craig with the licence to kill, or the fact that only the title has been lifted from the original novel.
Thus, in defence of `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes', the SPIRIT of the original sixty tales is very much in evidence. All are written by Watson in the first person. All are set in Holmes' `golden era' of the late 1880s-1890s and liberally refer to such immortal cases as that involving Baskerville Hall. In tone and content, they feel very authentic and it is hard not to admire the attention to detail, including references to the detective's smoking tastes and even items of furniture in 221b Baker Street. I even rejoice in the fact that the name Conan Doyle appears on the spine of the collection. In fact, were you to inject these twelve tales into the original canon in their correct chronological places and not draw attention to the author(s), I would argue that they blend in very well indeed.
Perhaps the only credible criticisms that can be offered about `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' (except the inescapable and blameless fact that they are not the works of Sir Arthur) is the lack of originality and inspiration of some of the tales. Indeed, take tale 11 (`The Adventure Of The Deptford Horror') for example, which bears more than a passing resemblance to `The Speckled Band' and does for the reputation of spiders what Sir Arthur's story did for the reputation of snakes! Likewise, other tales run out of steam, notably `The Adventure Of The Two Women' in which the solution to a blackmailing scam proves ludicrously simple to resolve having required only reasonable eye-sight. Nevertheless, similar criticism could be offered of certain stories in the later volumes of the original tales, and for every mild disappointment found in `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes', there are some top-notch mysteries - my two favourites being `The Wax Gamblers' and `The Red Window' which blend the sinister and the macabre most cleverly.
Thus, my argument to those put off `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' by the fact that the stories are not TRULY originals would be to read them in the SPIRIT in which they were written. I do not defend them on the grounds that they are equal to the very best stories found in `The Adventures...' or `The Memoirs...' of Sherlock Holmes. No, I defend them as engaging tributes which deserve to be read when the original canon has been completed. If nothing else, `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' does boast the immortal line (never used by Sir Arthur), "Elementary, my dear Watson." And after all, seventy two is a nice round number.
Barty's Score: 8 / 10
* Funnily enough the technique of adopting a previous author's character and style as used in `The Exploits Of Sherlock Holmes' has recently been employed by Sebastian Faulk's writing AS Ian Fleming in `Devil May Care'.
A fairly typical sleuth story with some moments of greatness. What interested me most about the Sign of the Four was which elements of the story have dated and which haven't. The plot itself is very predictable now, it may have been ground breaking at the time. It's a tale of ill gotten treasure from the mysterious east and skulduggery that stretches from country houses to the Thames. You've heard it all before, for better or worse. What really dates it is the portrayal of the Indian characters, prepare to be offended if you are sensitive to this kind of thing - Conan Doyle's descriptions of savages certainly doesn't mark him out as a progressive humanitarian, even for his day.
The characterization of Holmes however is the most interesting part of the story. He's an unapologetic drug user who finds that the only things that stimulate him are mysteries and crack cocaine. It makes for interesting stuff.
Derek Jacobi (the patron saint of audiobooks) does a bang up job as ever.
The second of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, The Sign of Four builds upon A Study in Scarlet by adding flaws and complexity to his consulting detective's genius. Where the first novel presented him as an almost superhuman intellect by the simple expedient of applying common sense and logical deduction to his observations, here we see the chinks in his armour, most notably his drug abuse in times of boredom. Watson isn't overlooked either, the novel introducing him to Mary Morstan, who would play an important role in briefly separating the duo in future stories without ever really establishing herself as much of a presence in any of them. None of which gets in the way of the plot, which involves a woman in an undisclosed peril that - like most of the Holmes' novels - is ultimately revealed by a lengthy flashback to events years earlier that led to the current crimes. It's a complex affair and, it has to be said, not one of Doyle's best, at times feeling slightly beholden to Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone with the supernatural aspect removed, but there's still much to enjoy.
Once again AudioGo's unabridged audiobook version is given a sympathetic and splendidly unfussy reading by Derek Jacobi: no gimmicks, no overacting, no amendments to the text, just the reassuring feeling that we're listening to Dr. John Watson recounting his extraordinary friend's exploits. It's ideal fireside storytelling as the evenings draw in whether you're coming to the story for the first time or paying it a return visit.