Friday, 14 August 2015

'The Valley of Fear' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1914)

Synopsis: The Valley of Fear is the seventh book in the Sherlock Holmes series and its story takes place before the events of The Final Problem. At Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are sent a coded letter from one of Holmes' secret informants: a man called Porlock who is an agent of Moriarty's. When Holmes eventually manages to decipher Porlock's message he learns that a man called John Douglas is in great danger. But as soon as Holmes reads the message Inspector MacDonald from Scotland Yard turns up and announces that this very same man has already been killed by a shotgun blast to the face. Holmes and Watson then accompany MacDonald to Douglas's home Birlstone Manor to try to solve the mystery. John Douglas spent many years of his life in America and at the estate Holmes finds certain clues which suggest that the killer was an American. But there's also the added problem of the drawbridge - the manor is surrounded by a large moat and a working drawbridge which is raised every single night. How did the killer get inside? Not only that, a dumbbell has gone missing, Mrs Douglas is behaving very oddly, there's a strange tattoo on the victim's body, and a hidden bicycle is found on the grounds. Holmes gradually begins to work out Douglas's background and the story then flashes back 20 years earlier to an American coal-mining region called Vermissa Valley.

As much as I love the Sherlock Holmes stories in general I have to confess that I wasn't much looking forward to this particular book, as I'm not really the biggest fan of the A Study in Scarlet novel and The Valley of Fear sounded almost exactly like it. And I was right. The Valley of Fear is yet another Sherlock Holmes novel that's split into two different sections and with very little to connect them. The first half of the book is fairly fun and enjoyable (if the reader is willing to overlook the massive retcon that is Watson knowing about Moriarty and Sebastian Moran before the events of The Final Problem and The Empty House! :D ) There's some extremely funny bickering between Holmes and Watson in the opening chapter and there's a very clever resolution to the John Douglas mystery that I genuinely didn't see coming... although as soon as Holmes explained how he managed to work it out I felt I should have done. But then just like A Study in Scarlet the book is let down by its second half: we get another boring tale that's set in America and doesn't feature Holmes and Watson at all. Look Doyle, when I read one of your stories I want to be reading about Holmes and Watson! Is that really so much to ask?! I can tell that you were really interested in America but, instead of shortchanging your readers by only giving them 1/2 a Holmes story, why couldn't you have just had Holmes and Watson going off to America to solve a crime?! It would have been easy! In The Dancing Men you established that Holmes had a correspondent in the NYPD called Wilson Hargreave*. So why couldn't you have had Hargreave simply cable Holmes and ask him to come over to New York to help him solve a case? That would have been far more interesting and enjoyable!

I know I've said this before in some of my other reviews but overall I much prefer the Sherlock Holmes short stories over the novels.  I've read all of the four Sherlock Holmes novels now and the only one of those books that I've really, truly loved has been The Hound of the Baskervilles. The other novels haven't been without their enjoyable moments but The Hound of the Baskervilles has by far the most gripping story, has by far the most interesting secondary characters and it has by far the best atmosphere.

Rating: 3/5

* If the makers of CBS's Elementary had only included Wilson Hargreave in their show I would have been much less critical of it in that review I once wrote. I really mean it! Because if they had then that would have been so genuinely impressive and awesome!


Hamlette said...

Yup, that's pretty much how I feel about this one too: aggravated.

Hannah said...

Mmm, I'm certainly glad that the other books in the canon that I have left to read are short story collections!

Hamlette said...