Review by Roy Boyd
Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final full-length Sherlock Holmes novel. It’s a mixture of classic English (or British, Conan Doyle was Scottish after all) country house mystery and a more muscular American style story.
We open, as is usually the case, with the Great Detective and the Good Doctor (that’s Holmes and Watson to the uninitiated) at home in 221B Baker Street, and another stunning reminder of Sherlock’s abilities. No sooner has he deciphered a message without the aid of the key required to do so than a detective arrives to inform him of the death of the person mentioned in the just decoded message.
Then it’s off to Birlstone Manor, our traditional country house, and a locked-room murder mystery with an absolute plethora of clues that include a mysterious brand, a missing wedding ring, a cryptic calling card, a set of muddy footprints, a bloodstain on the window ledge, a misplaced dumb-bell and a victim with his face blown clean off. Phew! Add to this the fact that the house has a moat with a drawbridge that’s taken up every evening, and there’s plenty to exercise Sherlock’s brilliant mind. These plot devices, many of them so commonplace as to be clichéd now, were groundbreaking at the time this was written. Indeed, it’s testament to the success of these stories that so many elements seems familiar to modern readers.
The central story-within-a-story was largely based on the exploits of James McParland, a Pinkerton agent who infiltrated a notorious Irish gang, the Molly Maguires, and published the story of his exploits. Many consider this section to be the first example of what would become known as ‘hard-boiled’ detective fiction.
Writer Ian Edginton and artist I.N.J. Culbard, old hands by this point, have yet again done a fine job of adapting the original into a graphic novel. Some of the artwork is perhaps a little less polished than the other Sherlock Holmes books, with more blank backgrounds and less impressive brushwork on display. Nevertheless, this book, considered the least of the novels by many Holmes fans, is able to hold its own alongside the other three.
SelfMadeHero weren’t taking much of a gamble re-releasing these titles in this new pocket-sized edition, as the books had already been very well received when they’d been issued at a large size several years previously. It’s nice to see a fresh version of this series, one that can hold its head up high as one of the most faithful and successful Sherlock Holmes adaptations.