March 1, 2010

Hard Boiled Holmes: THE VALLEY OF FEAR

(Revised 01/12/2023)

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

Much of the recent activity around Holmes has 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 a crossover with a classic pulp character. 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 unsurprising that Hard Case Crime - 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 and being "based on a true story" (which is somewhat accurate). Still, in terms of's one of the more modern novels and has a little more accessible prose style. Never mind the scantily clad young lady on the cover (and I apologize to my female readers for the blatant pandering) - this is a pretty solid novel, maybe one of the more underrated Holmes novels.

(And before you complain about Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson belonging only to 19th-century'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).

(Spoiler - that post never happened.)

Valley of Fear has 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 Airship 27's Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective anthologies (which I have read - and enjoyed!), but for my money, reading the final full-length tale of the great detective from his creator made me feel like I was twelve years old again.

Especially with that cover.

(EDIT - All Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, including The Valley of Fear, are in the public domain. If you don't wish to purchase the Hard Case Crime reissue, you can download an ebook copy via Standard EBooks or several audiobook versions via Librivox

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