The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is loosely based on the real-life exploits of the Molly Maguires and Pinkerton agent James McParland. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915.
This was a very enjoyable book and it showed the maturing of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson characters 13 years after their emergence in A Study in Scarlet. It also hinted at the ultimate Holmes villain, Dr. Moriarty.
The book starts out with Holmes receiving a code about an impending murder followed by a note telling him to forget about the code and that the key to figure it out will not be provided. Of course Holmes and Watson figure it out anyway and are soon involved in the case of an apparent murder.
As the facts begin to come together, the tale culminates with a surprise, although somewhat predictable solution to the murder. As is true with the other Holmes novels, however, this is only half of the story.
As the murderer tells his story, the reader is brought into a rich world of the midwestern United states mining culture and the society of Freemen or, as they’re known today, Freemasons. There is a focus on a corrupt faction of the society that is murdering those that won’t pay for protection or that question their motives.
Again, there is a surprise ending as to the murderer’s role in this group and a further surprise at the end that brings back the shadow of Dr. Moriarty.
This book stands up well today as a mystery. Once again, Doyle’s narrative and apparent knowledge of the United States of that period makes the story even more engaging. This was an enjoyable read and deserves five out of five pizzas.