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review 2017-09-13 15:55
Halloween Bingo - Locked Room Mystery - I liked Mycroft better
The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

 

 

I hadn't made up my mind about the Locked Room Mystery square until the last minute.  For some of the other squares my choices were fairly long and I was looking forward to them, so I was glad to spot The Sign of the Four on the suggested list. 

 

The novel is included in The Works of A. Conan Doyle published by Black's Readers Service, one of those inexpensive sets that used to be advertised -- maybe they still are? -- on the back cover of the Sunday newspaper magazine supplement.  My dad had a set bound in red cloth; I bought them in the tan paper-embossed-to-look-like-leather-and-stamped-in-gold back in the early 70s.

 

 

 

And it's been about that long, or maybe even longer, since I read The Sign of the Four, when I was on a Holmes binge.  Having just read Kareen Abdul-Jabbar's Mycroft Holmes, I thought the comparison would be interesting.

 

Yeah, I liked Mycroft better than his younger brother.

 

The opening scene with Sherlock shooting up cocaine because he's bored didn't shock me, because I had remembered it quite well.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it 45 or more years ago, and I didn't like it now.  "Well, if you're so freaking bored, why don't you go out and find a puzzle that's worthy of your supreme powers of deduction, you arrogant asshole?" was my thought yesterday.

 

See, Mycroft was arrogant, but he never reached the stage of full-fledged assholery his younger brother had.

 

As I continued reading, bits and pieces of the story came back to me, but not all in one flash, so as far as the story itself went, it was pretty much like a fresh read.  But Sherlock's personality didn't improve.  The general Victorian racism was no surprise either, but it sat no easier on my mind than Sherlock's addiction.

 

The locked room mystery part was quickly solved, and the rest was the search for the actual perpetrator once he'd been identified.   And the last quarter of so of the novella was in turn his tale of the events that had led up to the murder.

 

Many elements of Jonathan Small's history brought to mind The Moonstone (1868), but the Wilkie Collins novel was in my estimation not only much better done with a more interesting set of characters, but also dealt with the social issues more aligned with current attitudes than with the traditional Victorian views expressed by Conan Doyle.  Small's disposal of the treasure he considered he had a right to contrasted sharply with the ending of The Moonstone.  The mystery of the treasure really overshadowed the locked room mystery in The Sign of the Four, and Holmes had no part in solving it other than finally capturing Jonathan Small.

 

 

 

 

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review 2008-05-01 00:00
Victorian Values - James Walvin Victorian Values - James Walvin This is purportedly an examination of "Victorian values," but in reality it is mostly a neat history of urban social problems and how Victorians dealt with them. Most of what we now think of as western civilization came about during Victoria's reign: labor unions, public libraries, trains, compulsory schooling for children, labor laws, newspapers, the police force, sociological studies...It is absolutely fascinating to read about where each of these came from, and how they developed from there. I recommend this book purely for those chapters, because the others are a mess. Walvin seems unable to recognize hypocrisy when he sees it, and instead of saying, "wow, Victorians had varied and generally twisted views of sex" he says, "well, not all of them burned nude paintings, and men swam nude, so therefore Victorians weren't prudes." Um, no. Just accept that the Victorians were a wee screwy and we'll move on to their awesome charity work, 'k? (Walvin makes some great points relating to charities--upper class Victorians assumed that the poor were destitute through their own poor choices, and tried to help them in a piecemeal fashion. Their attempts to educate the populace and get them away from excess drinking were ineffective, but increased literacy (compulsory schooling) and a larger range of entertainments (increased travel and consumerism) were what actually turned the tide.)

One final quote from the book: "We need to recognize that many of the 'values' were developed as a response to a contemporary problem or difficulty, not as the outcome of a prevailing Victorian strength or achievement."
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