The Sign of Four is the second Sherlock Holmes novel written by Arthur Conan Doyle, following A Study in Scarlet. It was published in 1890 and is now in the public domain. It was converted to electronic text by optical character recognition. This copy was reformatted and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277.

The Sign of Four contains many key events in the characterization of Holmes and Watson. First it introduces us to Sherlock's cocaine habit, which remains through the rest of Doyle's stories and is only cured when Nicholas Meyer wrote The Seven-Per-Cent Solution in 1976. It also provides some additional insight into Sherlock's private life (or lack thereof) and attitude towards women, and how he doesn't feel alive or motivated unless he has some difficult puzzle to chew over. For his part, Dr. Watson comes out of the tale with a fiancé, and by the next Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia, he has gotten married and moved out of 221b Baker Street.

The story follows a familiar trend to Holmes readers. A confused person calls upon Holmes for help, which leads to a private investigation, interruption by the Scotland Yard detectives and the false trail they set off on, Sherlock's amazing string of observations and deductions in a case that becomes more confusing and dangerous the longer it goes on, and finally the whole story as related by either Holmes or, in this case, the captured criminal. The actual sequence of events is rather short, taking only a single chapter to relate, but from the point of view of Holmes and Watson as they piece together the mystery it is a full-length novel.

The Sign of Four relates the tale of a young woman who could be a wealthy heiress due to her missing father's adventures in India during the Sepoy mutiny several years previous. However at least three other men are currently interested in the great Agra treasure, including a dangerous escaped convict with a peg-leg and his faithful companion, an aboriginal Andaman Islander (near India in the Bay of Bengal). The story comes to its climax in a Victorian-era version of a chase scene with two steam-driven boats barreling down the crowded river Thames.

As with other Victorian-era literature, the story is not what one would call politically correct. Tonga, the Islander, is portrayed as a dumb, cannibalistic, and bloodthirsty savage. Although women are treated poorly in general, Watson does at least have a twinge of conscience at Sherlock's outright misogyny (tempered somewhat by the events of the next story, A Scandal in Bohemia). However read for what it is, a product of its time, it is still an entertaining story and a must-read for any Sherlock Holmes fan.

Chapter 1: The Science of Deduction
Chapter 2: The Statement of the Case
Chapter 3: In Quest of a Solution
Chapter 4: The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
Chapter 5: The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
Chapter 6: Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
Chapter 7: The Episode of the Barrel
Chapter 8: The Baker Street Irregulars
Chapter 9: A Break in the Chain
Chapter 10: The End of the Islander
Chapter 11: The Great Agra Treasure
Chapter 12: The Strange Story of Jonathan Small

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