I started thinking of Mr. Thaddeus Sholto after watching a YouTube video on movie director M. Night Shyamalan. Sholto probably would have claimed Shyamalan as his favorite director were Sholto alive today, because M. Night was born in Pondicherry, the very place Thaddeus's dad named his Norwood home after. Thaddeus did not live there himself, but what the younger Sholto did to his own home was the work of a total and complete fanboy.
Had Thaddeus Sholto ever actually been to India, as his father did? Said father was apparently looting and pillaging the place in the almost stereotypically bad colonizer form. "He had prospered in India, and brought back with him a considerable sum of money, a large collection of valuable curiosities, and a staff of native servants." Old Major John Sholto was a real bastard, trying to make for his lifetime of evil by making a deathbed confession and telling his sons to give some of his stolen wealth to one young woman, speaking of his "cursed greed" like it was a demon who should take the blame for his selfishness.
Thaddeus Sholto is the worst sort of fanboy, which shouldn't be a big surprise, given his crap lineage.
Sholto's "third-rate" house is set up like an amusement park version of an Indian palace. He has a costumed servant to show people into his sitting room overstocked with tiger skins, paintings, and pottery from Asia. He is sure to smoke his hookah while he entertains his guests, and is sure to describe "the mild balsamic odor of the Eastern tobacco" before he does.
Thirty years old, Thaddeus Sholto is very nervous and keeps repeating "Your servant, Miss Morstan," over and over. Women are apparently outside of his experience, to put it politely. Had his father not looted India so thoroughly, Thaddeus sure seems like he would be living in his dad's basement at Pondicherry Lodge. His descriptions of himself all demonstrate a self-involvement that is all about portraying above normal humans.
"You will excuse these precautions, but I am a man of somewhat retiring, and I might even say, refined, tastes, and there is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman. I have a natural shrinking from all rough forms of materialism. I seldom come into contact with the rough crowd." If I were to assign that line to any modern character, it would have to be the comic book geek from The Simpsons, who could exactly say those words without breaking character in the least.
Thaddeus Sholto basically gets an entire chapter dedicated to him by Dr. Watson, who somehow found him a strange and fascinating character despite the fact that the doctor himself was so enamored of Mary Morstan in the moment that he was babbling insanely about ridiculous medical practices, much as he did earlier about a "double-barrelled tiger cub."
Thaddeus Sholto might not be the murderer of The Sign of the Four, but he definitely is not the hero. In fact, I might actually like Jonathan Small as a person better than ol' Thaddeus. And Tonga? That little dancer/murderer basically moved to another planet, so he was either the bravest of the brave or just so in love with a wooden-legged man that he dared all. Either way, a better man than Thaddeus Sholto.
At the story's end we are so focused on Mary Morstan losing the treasure that we don't consider how Sholto just lost his family fortune as well, and will probably spend the rest of his days selling off his collectables to keep his servants and hold on to his "aesthetic" lifestyle as best he can. Without his smarter brother and the treasure behind him, his descent in life was probably assured.
And I don't feel too badly about that.