The final Holmes novel—and the last full book review of 2009! There's only ONE WEEK LEFT until the Sherlock Holmes movie, so we here at the Daily Genoshan (and by "we" I just mean me, obviously) are winding down the great Holmesian read-through that's been going on recently. Hopefully you've been enjoying it and are now eagerly awaiting the film as much as I am!
The Valley of Fear begins much like most Sherlock Holmes stories: the great detective and his faithful friend Watson are seated in their 221B Baker Street apartment, fussing over some small riddle they've come across. The riddle is in the form of a coded message that Holmes has received, which, once deciphered, informs the pair that someone named Douglas is in danger somewhere called "Birlstone." No sooner have they figured out the code, however, than an inspector comes to the apartment to ask for their help; a man named Jack Douglas has been brutally murdered in his home, a manor called Birlstone!
From here, the first half of the novel progresses much like the others. And actually, if the first half stood alone as one of the short stories, it would probably be my favorite. All the clues were right there, but for the life of me I couldn't put it all together. There are a few bizarre contradictions, though, like the mentioning of Professor Moriarty and his possible involvement in the affair. Moriarty is only supposed to appear in "The Final Problem," the short story in which Holmes allegedly dies, but in The Valley of Fear Moriarty is still alive, and yet Watson talks about him as if the two have discussed him before. Oh well, slight problem. He isn't a main character really anyway.
What truly makes this novel stand out is the second half. Similar to the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, this book is broken into two parts, where the first part mainly concerns Holmes and his case, and the second part deals with the motives/backstory for the case. This backstory is told independent of Watson's narration, and takes place again in America, though this time in Pennsylvania coal country instead of Utah. Also, this novel again uses some kind of secret society based in the real world as its main antagonist. Where this novel's backstory veers away from that of the first novel, however, is in quality. I was blown away. Within the mystery from the first half of the novel, Holmes comes across the manuscript in which the second half is written, so it makes for a much smoother transition than in the first novel. It could almost stand alone as its own story as well, or even a feature film. It's amazing how well-written it is, and I'm pretty sure it was at least partially based on a true story, which makes it even more incredible. I don't want to give it away at all, so I won't go into the details too much, but it would be worth reading the novel even if the first half was crap, just to read that second part. Luckily, the first half is amazing as well. It's a completely different kind of story than The Hound of the Baskervilles, but just as good.
The Valley of Fear
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Two incredible stories tied neatly into one amazing novel. I was kinda worried that the follow-up to The Hound of the Baskervilles would be bad, assuming that they couldn't all be so well-written. Wow, was I wrong.
By this point in his career (1915), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had all but perfected the detective genre. To be able to write an action-packed American thriller alongside his upright British mystery is no small feat.
There's a whole lot of bloodshed in this one, which drops it to a 9.75 (some people aren't into that kind of thing, and that's ok), and then the weird Professor Moriarty contradiction docks another .25, admittedly, but it's still such an enjoyable novel. I'm astounded that one man could produce so many exceptional works.
I didn't go into these reviews as some Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, partial to the stories and wanting everyone else to enjoy them, too (that's also why I don't review books I've already read, it's cheating). I had never picked up a Holmes story before, or watched any of the films or tv shows. I was as new to them as most of you probably still are now. Look how it's affected the site, though! The #2 and #3 highest rated books of the last year are Sherlock Holmes novels! If that doesn't get you to at least check one of them out, consider this: Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. All of these stories and novels can be read for free online. Please, do yourself a favor and look into it. I'm telling you, you won't be disappointed.
Make sure you come back next Wednesday for the final Holmes short story review. After that, there won't be any more reviews until 2010! Granted, that'll only be a week or two away, but still. Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!
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