F.R.'s Reviews > The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
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Jan 31, 2011

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Over the last year I’ve re-read ‘A Study in Scarlet’, ‘The Sign of Four’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. It’s been an incredibly enjoyable experience, not least because each of the novels performed the charming trick of being much better than I remembered it. I take the orthodox view that it’s in the short stories where you find the true magic of Sherlock Holmes (particularly ‘The Adventures’ and ‘The Memoirs’), but this seems to have had the odd effect of downgrading the qualities of the novels in my mind. Something told me though, that when I came to ‘The Valley of Fear’ – the book which, memory told me, was very much the least of the longer works – there wouldn’t be enough there to turn my disappointment into appreciation.

And so it proved.

Firstly, let me just say that the Sherlock Holmes parts of this book are excellent. He and Watson are called in to investigate what’s basically a locked room mystery, and Holmes exhibits all the sardonic wit, masterful deduction and infuriating melodrama which readers have come to love him for. Even when Conan-Doyle was just churning them out for the money (and most of the later Holmes’ stories were written with a large cheque in mind), he does keep true to the wonderful character he created, but came to despise. Even, if he can get a tad fuzzy about the details of the canon.

The major problem with this book is the second half. Both ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and ‘The Sign of Four’ have sections of flashback not involving Sherlock Holmes, but here Conan-Doyle gives nearly fifty percent of the book to these other matters. Watson describes the flashback as a “singular and terrible narrative”, but instead it’s flat, hackneyed and with some dreadfully corny dialogue. It concerns the infiltration of a murderous and secret American society, and in précis sounds interesting, but the author never manages to bring it to life. The entire tale lies there inert, daring the reader to plod through it.

It wouldn’t be so bad if that flashback was shorter, it wouldn’t be so bad if the Baker Street wrap-up which follows wasn’t a meagre page and a half long. As it is, even a dedicated Sherlock Holmes fan can’t help feeling somewhat cheated.
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Reading Progress

January 31, 2011 – Started Reading
January 31, 2011 – Shelved
Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Corey My favorite Holmes.

F.R. I'm still not convinced I'm afraid, but given it is Sherlock Holmes I will no doubt read it again at some point and maybe then its charms will leap out at me.

Am moving onto some ancillary Sherlock Holmes fiction now.

message 3: by Tony (new)

Tony Gleeson I re-read this perhaps a year or two ago. I might be wrong but I think this is based on the Molly Maguires, who were a secret labor organization in the mining country of Pennsylvania that were broken up by the Pinkertons and were accused of kidnapping and other crimes. There is some debate to this day about the validity of the accusations. Obviously the group in the Conan Doyle tale were quite nefarious.

F.R. I have heard of the Molly Maguires, but don't know a great deal about them. Interesting. It wouldn't surprise me if the latter parts of this book were drawn from the newspapers.

message 5: by Maureen (new)

Maureen See if you can get your hands on a copy of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes curated (can't think of a better way to put it) by Leslie S. Klinger. In addition to being a hefty, beautiful, lavishly illustrated three book series, it will answer every question you have ever had about S. Holmes & Cie. It is the only book I have ever seen where the annotations are nearly as interesting as the original text.

The Valley of Fearis in Vol. 3, and there an extensive note about the Molly Maguires on page 773.

message 6: by Tony (new)

Tony Gleeson Klinger's annotated volumes are generally considered as a worthy successor and updater to Baring-Gould's earlier marvelous annotated set, which is what I have. A real Sherlockian might feel the need to own both. ;-)

F.R. Oh don't tell me that, one of my vices in life is the uncontrollable urge to buy and re-buy the original Sherlock Holmes books.

David Sarkies I am inclined to agree with you. I do find that the short stories give us a much better view of Holmes than these long stories. I suspect that is why Doyle only ever wrote four of them.

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