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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Valley of Fear

Oddly enough, up until recently I had read every bit of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works--56 stories, and three novels. However, he wrote four novels, so I was missing one, and that was The Valley of Fear. Now I have completed the canon.

Like A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes work, The Valley of Fear is a hybrid novel. The first half is a simple mystery that Holmes solves rather quickly, the second, connected story takes place in the coal mining country of the U.S. You may recall that in A Study in Scarlet the book tells a long story of Mormons out west (for which Doyle was criticized, as the Mormons are villainized). Here he does the same thing with Freemasons, as a secret society that seems a lot like them is running an assassination ring.

The opening mystery involves a man shot in his parlor, with a window open and the culprit presumably wading across a moat out front (ah, the days when houses had moats!). Holmes is fixed on a single dumbbell--where is its partner?

There is also a coded message that Holmes solves rather quickly. During this segment he talks about his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. I had wondered about the theory that the Doctor was a figment of Holmes' imagination (in the other two stories in which he's mentioned, Watson never sees him). But the discussion in this work would indicate he's very real, and Holmes does not underestimate him: "The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations—that's the man!"

The U.S. portion of the book is nothing amazing, but it does have a twist at the end that fooled me. If you're looking for a Holmes novel to read, start with The Hound of the Baskervilles, or just read the stories. They're better.

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