About a year ago, if someone would’ve asked me what makes a good story, I would talk in detail on the subject. However, now I can simply answer, “Whatever Sir Arthur wrote was a good story!”, a great story, in fact. After completing The Valley of Fear, the last in the famous Sherlock Holmes novels, I admit that there are few things in life as engaging as reading the detective tear through the darkness of suspense. I was already a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I read the first installment of the Sherlock Holmes series of novels, and by the time I completed the fourth, I was in complete awe of the mystery writer. So, here’s my review of the last novel of the series (which makes me sad):
Plot Summary of The Valley of Fear
The Valley of Fear is the fourth and last novel in the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published as a book in February 1915, though it also appeared in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 to May 1915. The Valley of Fear is a story about a mysterious murder in Birlstone, beautiful countryside in England. John Douglas of Birlstone Manor House is killed, and the mystery around his murder is mind-blowing and much more intense than any of the previous Sherlock Holmes stories.
The story also introduces the character of Professor James Moriarty, the elite criminal mastermind, for the first time in the series. However, much like the first two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, the crimes in this story too have their roots in the past. The story takes us back to the Valley of Vermissa, a mining town in the United States. The journey introduces us to the Scowrers, a secret society of criminals that are wreaking havoc on the day-to-day life in the valley.
Interestingly, the story has two tipping points, almost like two distinct climaxes, that blew me away. The first – is the point when the flamboyant detective solves the mystery, and two – the point when the story from flashback comes to an end. No matter how smart you think you are, there’s no way one can anticipate what Sir Arthur has in store. Most importantly, the end of the story has compelled me to read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories for one reason only – to learn more about James Moriarty, and those who’ve seen the Sherlock Holmes BBC series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, will know why so.
Much like the previous three novels in the series, The Valley of Fear also has strong characters, some with even more layers to them. For instance, the characters of Sherlock and Dr Watson have become more mature, and more subtle in their approach. The detective has certainly grown in age and experience, and that shows in the way he phenomenally dissipates the suspense around the crime.
However, the more interesting characters in the novel are in the past, when we meet Jack McMurdo, Jack McGinty, Teddy Baldwin, the beautiful Ettie Shafter, and of course, Birdy Edwards. The characters in the Vermissa Valley, especially the Scowrers, are ruthless hounds, strongly bonded by the pack rules, with weird customs, and a huge load of horrendous crimes to their names. The most interesting of them is Teddy Baldwin, the man who continues to take the fears of Vermissa Valley to the Birlstone Manor years later. McMurdo, on the other hand, is the young hothead, brash enough to test his balls against the alpha males of the valley.
All in all, Sir Arthur has architected each character to fit perfectly into the story, and the result is that we have another masterpiece on our hands to devour.
Art of Stitching Past to Present
Since the very first novel, A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur has mastered the art of stitching the past to the present. In The Valley of Fear, the author furthers this art and makes the story even more gripping, interesting, and mind-blowing for the readers. Very few authors out there can do this seamlessly, and almost no one can create two different worlds and be as believable as Sir Arthur.
Yes, there will be authors who can spread their story across generations, as Jeffrey Archer does in Sons of Fortune. However, not many can portray worlds as contrasting as countryside England, and a bustling, polluted mining town in the United States. The only other author I can remember do it flawlessly is the great Mario Puzo, who portrays life in Sicily for a short while in his magnum opus, The Godfather, in contrast to the busy and swashbuckling life in Long Island, New York.
Language & Readability
Like the previous works of Sir Arthur, the language used in The Valley of Fear is simple and digestible for young readers. Yet, the book remains a gem for those looking for linguistic juice. The best part about the story in this regard is that it keeps the readers hooked to it, and you might again find yourself looking for excuses to keep reading it. However, there are a lot of characters, much more than any other Sherlock Holmes novel. Though all of these have a part to play in the central plot, it can get a bit difficult to keep track of all of them.
The Valley of Fear is a fantastic last edition of the Sherlock Holmes novels. It has enough suspense, mystery, and detective brilliance that one expects from Sir Arthur, yet you’ll find more than a murder mystery. It feels sad that there are no more novels in the series, but again, I am looking forward to exploring James Moriarty. Remember? Tik Tack Tik Tack… 1-2-1-2-1-2-3-4….
Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.