The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear is the least-known of the four Sherlock Holmes novels, and I’m not sure why that is. It was written late, first appearing in 1914, but it’s a good mystery. Like most of the other novels, there’s a lengthy digression where Arthur Conan Doyle writes an adventure story to explain the modern-day murder. In this case, it’s loosely based on the Molly Maguires, a secret society amongst Pennsylvania coal miners that controlled through violent intimidation and murder.

There’s a cipher message, a mention of Moriarty’s machinations, a missing ring, a locked-room murder in a house with a drawbridge, of all things… as Leslie Klinger points out in his introduction, these “puzzles were fresh and original ideas at the time”. In contrast to the drawing-room mystery, the flashback section is more hard-boiled, with an undercover operative infiltrating a nasty gang with his own life at stake.

The Valley of Fear

The adaptation here is, as expected, outstanding. As with the other SelfMadeHero Sherlock Holmes graphic novels (all adapted by Ian Edginton and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard), The Valley of Fear is a faithful retelling of the book, even to the language used, which gives it a flavor that I love.

The book opens with Holmes getting a coded message from an informant amongst Moriarty’s organization. The spy, Porlock, in a following message, refuses to continue, so Holmes and Watson deduce how to decode the cipher, only to be interrupted by news of a bloody murder. The man’s wife and best friend are on the scene but behaving oddly.

Investigation and observation carry us through the solution, with plenty of surprises. Suitable to the time of its release — as the World War was beginning — there’s a melancholic ending, with an inability to escape the eventual violence. Perhaps that’s why the novel is less well-remembered. Shame, as the story has plenty to recommend it, as I was reminded by this excellent graphic novel version.

(There is a Kindle edition available.)

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