Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes receives a cryptic message from one of his informants, on deciphering this clandestine message, Holmes and Watson discover that someone named John Douglas is in great danger. Inspector MacDonald comes calling on Holmes with the news of a man called John Douglas, who has been mysteriously and brutally killed in Sussex.

John Douglas has been killed in his own home, surrounded by a moat, wide but only two or three feet deep.  The house has a drawbridge which is drawn up every night. John was shot through the face by a sawed shotgun, so whoever intended to murder him was not looking to keep things quiet, the police identify his body by a tattoo of a triangle inside a circle on his forearm, another perplexing mystery to the murder is that John's wedding ring is missing, the wedding ring was under the nugget ring which was found intact, why would someone take only the wedding ring? other residents of the house tell the police that John was a brave man but always had seemed troubled by some unknown danger. Holmes tries to use his deductions to solve this case of murder, secret societies and master criminals.

Sir Arthur creates an amalgam of a murder mystery and an action thriller. The first part of the book is a murder mystery followed by a genuine spy thriller in the second half. Doyle has used the same approach in "The Sign of Four" and "A Study in Scarlet", here too the books were divided in two parts, where the first was the crime and the second detailed the antecedents of the crime.

First book edition of the Valley of Fear came out in 1915, it is the last of the full length novels featuring Sherlock Holmes written by Doyle. This book also introduces the character of Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime and arch nemesis to Sherlock Holmes.

The Mystery is decent and quite workable, it is not too difficult working out the killer and what is going on with the plot. Quite a few decent clues are thrown by the author and using them the reader can nab the culprit as did the detective from Baker Street. The setting of the mystery is a house surrounded by moat and a drawbridge being the means to commuting to the house, this unique setting is right up to my palate and I found its defensive use quite fascinating, these are the kind of things you discover when you read.

Holmes deductions, as always are a joy to read. The way he deciphers the letter at the beginning or how he solves the crime are all up to Holmes usual standards. The best things about Doyle's writing is that the books are very readable, they are easy reads. They are short and you don't feel exhausted after reading them and the language is not tenebrous.

The second half of the book brings us to the "Valley of Fear" a coal mining town in America which is plagued  by an organized society of criminals and thugs. The author describes how this society has a stranglehold over the town and that lawlessness reigns supreme over them. The reader is taken through the journey of a young criminal how rises up the ranks to become a powerful member of this society, but Doyle being an extraordinary author adds more and throws in a big surprise ending which leaves the reader as satisfied as at the end of a Christmas dinner.

I would put this novel above Sign of Four and a Study in Scarlet, but no way near The Hound of Baskervilles.

3 Stars out of 5.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I am a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of India. We would be honoured if you would join us at
    or at


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