Review of “The Valley of Fear” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This was the first Sherlock Holmes book I’ve ever read. I’ve seen the recent movies, I’ve seen Sherlock, I’ve even seen The Great Mouse Detective. Suffice to say I’m familiar with the character, though not on a grand level. I’ve never really been a Sherlock Holmes fan based on those things, and while I enjoyed them, I never had the same reactions that some of my friends did, who are more hardcore Holmes fans than I am.

That being said, I wasn’t expecting to actually like one of the original books.

I was worried that the writing would be too dry for my tastes, and that my interest in the character wouldn’t be enough to let me get through a full book. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong on both counts.

The Valley of Fear is the fourth Sherlock Holmes novel and seventh canonical story (I believe…), so it was a bit of a weird place to start. It’s very clearly a novel with predecessors, so I will need to get my hands on a copy of the first book in the series rather than picking at random again, but it easily stands alone. It has a closed narrative that anyone who is familiar with the characters of the Holmes universe will be able to follow, and it is an intriguing book.

The reason why I only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads is because I didn’t really like the cut from Watson and Holmes in the present to the account of another character’s past. I understand completely why the book is structured that way, but I didn’t really like it, and while I was drawn in to the first half of the book, it took me a while to get into the second half.

That being said, the final twist is awesome. I’m usually pretty good at picking up clues that point towards twists, but this one kept me guessing until the very end. It absolutely does NOT come flying out of left field, though, and once it’s revealed, you realize how well it works and how clever it is. Doyle sets up your expectations, then sweeps all that aside in a startling but spectacular reveal of the truth.

All in all, it’s a good book, and I am definitely interested in reading more Sherlock Holmes stories. I’m hoping they don’t cut to other characters halfway through as this one did, but that seems like something I could probably get used to if I know it’s coming.

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