This book contains two stories which tie up nicely towards the end.
The first is a classic Holmes crime and mystery which is resolved, as expected by the smug Sherlock, to the astonishment and adulation of Watson and all of the other characters involved. Most avid readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories would probably unravel the puzzles before they read the conclusions of the master. The twist provided by the discovery of a corpse which has been shot in the face by a shotgun is overdone these days, but Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle’s representation of that scenario may have been completely original when he wrote this story. I would be very interested to know if he was the first, or if there was already a precedent.
It is a good mystery based around the murder of the owner of a mansion which is surrounded by a moat. The murderer’s escape route seems to be clear, but how did he get into the mansion when the draw bridge was up. There are many more puzzles to be solved. Of course, as always, the police detectives quickly come to the obvious conclusions, whilst Holmes thinks laterally until he arrives at the truth. The clues are scattered liberally throughout the text for the pleasure of the reader. I usually find that I discover the explanation just before it is revealed. That is what makes these stories so skillfully crafted and so enjoyable.
The second story is about “the scourers” in a mining community in North America. They are a goup of men who terrorise the Valley of Fear using their Freemasons’ Lodge as their cover and meeting place. A violent and terrible death is on the cards for anyone who crosses them or who tries to bring them to justice. This is an exciting and action-packed tale. What has this got to do with the murder which occurred in the opening chapter. Well, you know that there is some connection, but the layers are peeled off slowly, and the final knots are not tied until towards the end of the book.
I really did enjoy this one despite the predictabilities. Because of thier timings, they just made it more digestible. I can see why some lovers of Holmes would disagree with me, but I would strongly recommend it to any of my friends who enjoy a good crime mystery. For any lovers of Sherlock Holmes stories who have not read The Valley of Fear, I would say that their reading is not complete if this one is missing from their list.