Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear.

Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.

I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.

The last of the Sherlock Holmes novels, The Valley of Fear is the follow-up to the best of the novels. I can say this assuredly, as I have officially finished the four novels, and unfortunately, the hype surrounding The Hound of the Baskervilles is true.

That being said, The Valley of Fear is definitely a great story. It picks up along the same lines as Hound, but in a different sense. You can certainly tell that Doyle is growing ever more tired of his detective. He never wanted to write more Holmes stories after the last one in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I can tell, as the reader, that Doyle is simply placating the public. It shines through in his writing.

There is also the leaning towards violence in this novel, as there was in some of the later short stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It seems that Holmes is now the master murder-scene investigator rather than a great detective of the weird and unusual. It makes me long for the clever sleuthing in stories like "The Red-Headed League."

Anyway, the book opens with a brutal murder and unusual circumstances. The murdered man's head is blown off and his house is surrounded by a moat. The drawbridge was up that night, so there was no where for the murderer to go. Of course, Holmes and Watson are drawn into the crime and slowly, Holmes works out the details of the crime.

Halfway through the book, Holmes gives the solution to the crime. Like he did in A Study in Scarlet, Doyle switches gears at the halfway point to give the full back story to the crime. In A Study in Scarlet, this merely bothered me. However, here is really irritated me.

We begin with such dark and mysterious circumstances around the death that I just want to know the solution. I do not want to read through another 100 pages of back story to get the full picture. Doyle takes his time painting the portrait of the valley of fear, seemingly without a point. By the time this section ends, I was annoyed and angry and felt that Doyle wasted my time.

The switching of pace threw me off, and most of the story seemed extravagant. While I can understand his need to explain what happened to the characters and how they arrived at the point of the murder, I wish, like I did for A Study in Scarlet, that Doyle had intertwined that narrative with the rest of the mystery specific events. It would have made for a much more enjoyable reading experience.

That being said, I again have to go back to the violent element of the plot. In earlier stories, the crime was never so violent and the means of death were never so gruesome. I have to wonder if Doyle was getting a little morbid in his later years, or if the public outcry was so much that he needed to outdo each crime he presented. Personally, I don't mind gruesome, but I find that the continual use of violence is obnoxious in the way that Doyle uses it.

However, given my complaints, I still enjoyed the novel as a whole. The back story was well-developed and showed Doyle's ambition to write things other than Sherlock Holmes stories. The characters other than Watson and Holmes took on more development, and the solution was surprising (although, I feel I should point out that this is the first time I guessed the solution before Holmes revealed it!).

By this point, I can feel the end of Holmes, and while I am enjoying the Holmes stories and his development as a character, I am ready to set him aside.

I have two more books of short stories left: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and His Last Bow. Both are shorter than the other books of short stories, but it might take me a little ;onger to get through them, especially since I am growing a little weary of Holmes. We shall see!

I will be glad to cross Sherlock off my list. It is hard to believe I have been reading about him since April 1!


  1. I've been meaning to try out one of the Holmes novels (I've read some of the short stories but that's all), and this post confirmed my leaning towards Hounds of the Baskervilles! I've downloaded it and can't wait to enjoy it as my next audiobook. :)

  2. Good choice Eva. Hound is by far the best novel, and it is no wonder that it is the one most read! The mystery is just so much better!

  3. How good is the headed league, I love that story. What a great review. I haven't read this novel but I have read the hound of the Baskerville and I loved it. I agree with your observation about the change in the content of holmes investigation but I generally find the murder mysteries a little more exciting. Anyway, I'll make sure I read this novel eventually. I recently downloaded an I phone app that is all of sherlck holmes stories, and the app was free!

  4. Have you read any of Laurie King's series w/ Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes? One of my very favourites is The Moor, which is a homage to Baskervilles. :)