After a break of a few years, I’m a library member again. I’m back in my old familiar world, looking up call numbers of books, scanning the spines of books with my head askew and discovering all sorts of unknown authors and topics. The fact about libraries is that new and popular books are heavily in demand. What remains available to a person who visits on weekends are the classics. The shelves heave with the weight of multiple editions of Sherlock Holmes and Jeeves. And that is how I found myself reading the second book in the Sherlock Holmes series: The Sign of Four.
The characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson and their 221B Baker Street home is well established by now. When the book starts off, Holmes is in a bit of rut, due to the absence of good investigative cases. He is getting himself high on morphine or cocaine, as his habit is to calm his hyper-active mind. After a few interesting dialogues on logic and human nature between the duo, we are finally thrown a case. And to my pleasant surprise, the case is heavily tied to India!
I will not spoil the plot for you, but it is, as always, quite interesting. There is a long Indian backstory that runs right through the heart of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, the British holding off the mutineers in the Agra castle, a treasure stolen from a Raja, an Englishman and three sepoys (two Punjabis and a Muslim) shipped off to the prison in Andamans and finally a cannibal from the Andaman islands. India is everywhere in this novel: the main murder takes place at a bungalow called Pondicherry Lodge and the gems that everyone’s after is called the Agra treasure.
While the Indian connection and the appearance of many Indian-origin words kept me interested, the novel by itself is just okay. The main problem for me is that I get to see Holmes’ brilliant mind in action only a couple of times in the book. Instead, I would like to see a lot more of his intriguing explanations or small puzzles for him to solve all through the book while he is on a big case. A Sign of Four is a good read and that’s about it.