March 1, 2010

Hard Boiled Holmes

The Valley of Fear (Hard Case Crime)Who would have thought that, out of all the characters in contemporary fiction, Sherlock Holmes would be the "comeback kid"? (Or, as the marketers would say, that Holmes would be "rebuilding his brand")

Much of the recent activity around Holmes seems to have centered around his battling the undead (which I'm actually starting to enjoy), his portrayal by a hyper-macho director as an equally hyper-macho superhero, and even two volumes of newer fiction. Combine those with a 21st century-style reboot in the immediate future, Holmes seems as fresh and vital as ever, even without being played by Hugh Laurie.

So it's not too unsurprising that Hard Case Crime - more known for releasing and releasing more noir-ish novels - chose to rerelease The Valley of Fear, the last Sherlock Holmes novel published, complete with naughty noir-ish cover and not a deerstalker in sight.

It's being touted as a progenitor of the hard-boiled novel, as well as being "based on a true story" (which is somewhat true), but in terms of sensibility...it's one of the more modern novels, and has a little bit more accessible prose style. Never mind the scantily clad young lady on the cover (and I apologize to my female readers for the obvious pandering) - this is a pretty solid novel, maybe one of the more underrated Holmes novels.

(And before you complain about Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson belong in gaslight....you've obviously never seen them fight Nazis. I have. I'm not complaining, especially if Steven Moffatt's writing it, which reminds me, I owe you guys a blog post about Jekyll).

Valley of Fear has kind of an unusual structure in that the first half features Holmes and Watson, and then the second half...well, Holmes pops in towards the end, but they're remarkably absent, and in a way, that's what makes this case unique. It's almost as if Arthur Conan Doyle deliberately wrote a novel in which Holmes & Watson made an obligatory appearance (complete with references to Moriarty), and then told a different story...and in all honesty, that's not a bad thing. It actually makes for a rather interesting, unique read.

So if the idea of Victorian-era Holmes leaves you a little dry, and you're not really looking for a Holmes/insert-other-public-domain-character-here mashup, you have your choice - I've heard great things about both of the Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective anthologies (which I have not read), but for my money, reading the final full-length tale of the great detective from his creator....well, it made me feel like I was twelve years old again.

Especially with that cover.

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