The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Created: Sat Mar 20 14:40:07 2010 | Last modified: Sat Mar 20 14:40:07 2010
Most people who have read Sherlock Holmes agree that the novels featuring Holmes are better than the short stories. The accuracy of the above statement is further reinforced when one reads 'The Valley of Fear' one of the best ever Sherlock Holmes written by the original master of detective fiction.
Picture the setting: a classic English manor house murder mystery where one John Douglas is found murdered in his home in strange circumstances! Wait! There's more... Sherlock Holmes is already on to it before the news of the murder reaches him!!
Set in two halves as in Conan Doyle's previous novel A Study in Scarlet this is arguably the best original Sherlock Holmes novel written (fans of The Hound might disagree). The second half featuring a dangerous blackmailing society in the coal and iron districts of the USA actually overshadows the first part of the book! Which is saying a lot!
How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle weaves two apparently independent stories together with one common factor is simply fascinating. Aspiring authors can learn a lot from the master. There is suspense and thrill aplenty throughout the story, especially the second half. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary talents shine fully in this novel as the language used is most appropriate for the atmosphere he wishes to establish.
Apart from the thrill factor, this short novel does have a haunting effect on the reader: characters like the dangerous boss of Scowrers McGinty and the evil Ted Baldwin leave a strong impact on the reader. Uncannily Sir Arthur is able to visualise the scenes very accurately. One can almost see the grimy, snow-capped rugged terrain of Vermissa as one reads this book! For one thing Conan Doyle's language is simply classy: a trait that is very rare in modern authors.
In retrospect I must admit that Agatha Christie gets nowhere near Conan Doyle when it comes to literary talent. True, Christie produced some wonderful mysteries but none of her books create the same impact on the reader as Conan Doyle. Holmes himself takes a back seat in this book and that says a lot about Conan Doyle's skill in creating endearing and true-to-life characters as well as a gripping atmosphere.
With all the praise, I must admit that the ending is rather tame though tantalising (read the book! I won't reveal it here ) But that is a rather minor point - it almost seems as though Sir Arthur had difficulty in finding a suitable way to close his narration.
I rate this book 4/5. A must-read even for fans of modern detective fiction.