My Copy: 9780880292610 (image from abebooks.com)
The last of Doyle’s novels has a heckuva punch in it. I don’t remember the last time I read this, but it must’ve been a very long time ago because the story of the murdered man really took me by surprise, probably the biggest surprise I’d read yet in the Holmes stories.
Obviously, I won’t spoil it for you–hee hee. However, the story is divided into two parts–the investigation, and the story that started it all.
“The Valley of Fear” begins with Holmes and Watson discussing a cypher sent to them by an underling of Moriarty’s, only for Inspector MacDonald to come in asking Holmes’ assistance and ask how they already had information on the dead man in the cypher. This leads our duo to head to the Birlstone Manor House with him and take part in investigating the murder of Mr. Douglas.
During the case, the household rubs Watson and Holmes the wrong way, in that too many things don’t add up. Suspicions are aroused when the widow and the husband’s best friend seem a bit too friendly to Watson, and too eager to speak to Holmes without it being confided to the police. Also are some missing articles, footprints, the home’s raised drawbridge, and the state of the corpse, which confound and irritate the investigators.
However, as is typical with Holmes, there’s some little thing that others must discover if only to unravel the mystery of the murdered man, and how the crime could occur when the only reasonable access to the home hadn’t been lowered to allow entry or exit.
As far as this case was concerned, I figured out pretty quickly what had Holmes in a thinking frenzy, the item that would lead to the case’s resolution. That’s what surprised me most, I admit, but I suppose Doyle was hoping for the big surprises to be in Part 2.
I don’t want to spoil that story. I will say, however, that it deals with a young man who went into a mining community as a member of a brotherhood society, met the others, and is warned away repeatedly by those who live there. It seems the society’s been behind extortion, murder, and other acts for their own personal gain, and then there’s a young woman he loves that he doesn’t want to leave behind, so what is he supposed to do?
It took me a bit of time to get into Part 2, because I wasn’t sure where it was going. I felt that the main character in it was a bit dense and I just wanted to yell at him about what was going on. I suppose that’s what kept the suspense going, because at times I wasn’t sure what he knew. But the story kept following him at a decent pace.
I’ll give Doyle kudos for having great characterization in this story, even with minor characters. I felt like I could see the town and the people there, and get a real gist for the lives of those in the Valley.
It is hard for me to describe Part 2 more without the fear of giving something away, and I don’t want to do that, so I’ll leave this story review here.
I’d say anyone who may try to read “The Valley of Fear,” but hasn’t yet, should be prepared to really take your time with the second part. But it’s worth it.
“Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime. Everything comes in circles, even Professor Moriarty.” (pg 777)
“I say, Watson,” he whispered, “would you be afraid to sleep in the same room with a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?”
“Not in the least,” I answered in astonishment.
“Ah, that’s lucky,” he said, and not another word would he utter that night. (pg 805)