Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Valley of Fear

Well, as of last month I have read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels penned by Arthur Conan Doyle. I suppose this means I qualify as a real Sherlockian now and that my magic Sherlock Holmes decoder ring will show up in the mail sometime soon…or something like that.

The Valley of Fear is the fourth and last of the Sherlock Holmes novels, and as far as quality goes, I would place it somewhere near the bottom. The Hound of the Baskervilles is by far the best of the Holmes novels followed closely by The Sign of Four. Don’t get me wrong; I liked the novel. It’s just that, with the exception of HOTB, Doyle’s novels never rise to the level of his short stories.

One of the things that have irritated me in the past with the Holmes novels is the tendency of Doyle to split the books into two halves. One half will tell the story of the present day case; the other tells the back-story of the characters involved in the case. The problem is that I, and I’m sure other readers, would be just as happy having the back story told briefly in present time dialogue rather than in an extended flashback. The flashback format makes it feel like Doyle really wanted to write another book, but had to have the Sherlock Holmes case as a frame story to make it work. When I pick up a Sherlock Holmes book or story, I expect to see Sherlock Holmes. However, reading one of the Holmes novels because you want to see Sherlock Holmes is like watching Red Sonja because you heard that Conan was in it. You’re bound to come off a bit disappointed.

That having been said, this book has a lot of positive things going for it. This book gives Doyle a chance to atone for his mistakes in “The Final Problem”. In that story, Watson has never heard of Professor Moriarty and Moriarty is not actually made to appear very threatening. Doyle simply wanted an easy way to off the character he had grown weary of, and Moriarty was a convenient plot device. By the time he wrote The Valley of Fear, Doyle was sufficiently chastened and shows us the Moriarty we know and hate from most of his film incarnations.
“You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?"

"The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as—"

"My blushes, Watson!" Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.

"I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public."

"A touch! A distinct touch!" cried Holmes. "You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself."
He is a criminal mastermind who pulls the strings of most of the criminal activity in Europe. Anyone who tries to double cross him ends up dead in short order. He even offers his “services” for hire if the price is right.

If you enjoyed the other Sherlock Holmes books, you’ll like this one as well. It has nice interaction between Holmes and Watson, good villains, and a relatively interesting second half.

4/5 stars
Note: I thought that I would now be done with Sherlock Holmes for a while, but my wonderful wife bought me a copy of The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes which contains all of the stories published in “The Strand Magazine” along with all of Sidney Paget’s original illustrations. I have a feeling I’ll be returning to Holmes sooner than I thought.


buddy2blogger said…
Welcome to the Sherlockian Club :)

I personally like "The Valley of Fear", thanks due to the fine deductions Holmes makes about the identity of the murdered victim..

My personal favorite short story is "The Silver Blaze". I love "The Incident of the Dog" and "the sudden epidemic among the sheep" :)