Book Review – The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Valley of FearGoodreads Synopsis

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.

My Review

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.

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Studying the Masters in Crime/Detective Fiction

This post is the first in a series that I will be writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Studying the Masters

Part 1 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When I look at crime/detective fiction, I view Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the pioneering architects in the genre. His novels and collections centered around his Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson characters are timeless.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. Like his Dr. Watson character, Doyle was a physician. After serving as a ship’s surgeon in West Africa, Doyle became an opthalmologist with a practice in London.

Like many writers, he had a hard time finding a publisher for his work, but finally was able to publish A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes Novel, in 1886 earning 25 pounds for the rights to the story. The publisher further abused their new client when the sequel was published, so he left them.

Sherlock Holmes was a character that was modeled after a professor that Doyle had studied with. As for Dr. Watson, as I read more about Doyle, I realized that this character is somewhat autobiographical. Watson is the first person narrator in most of the Sherlock Holmes tales. I believe this equates to Doyle telling the story himself through Watson.

What struck me as I made my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories is how masterful Doyle was at making the complex deductive process that Holmes employs seem simple to the reader and, by extension, Dr. Watson. He will make an observation about a character that is astonishing and comes across as a wild guess, but then deconstructs the process he went through to make the deduction making it sound so simple that anyone should have been able to deduce the conclusion.

I also like that Doyle’s characters have flaws. Both Holmes and Watson were prone to depression. Holmes was also a drug addict. It resonates with me that Doyle made Holmes a musician. This is something that I’ve done with my own private detective character.

Doyle was not always enamored with his Sherlock Holmes character and threatened to, and actually did, kill him off in one of his works. Outraged fans, however, convinced him to resurrect Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of his most famous works, in 1901.

Doyle also penned other notable non-Sherlock Holmes works including The Lost World, and his Professor Challenger stories.

Doyle’s life away from writing was fascinating as he was a political activist, good friend to Harry Houdini, follower of spiritualism and an intermittent Freemason who resigned, rejoined, and resigned again from the society.

As I look at the life of this fascinating man and pioneer in the genre of crime/detective fiction, I am amazed at how his work holds up today and how the standard that he set for writers in this genre is still valid nearly 150 years after his era. This is not necessarily true of other authors of that time period.

Please look for upcoming posts on other authors that I consider masters in the crime/detective fiction genre.