Image found online, I reread this in iBooks, in my continuing revisit to the entire Sherlock Holmes canon. This is the last of the four Holmes novels, and unlike the others I remembered absolutely nothing about it, so it was like reading it for the first time, and great fun.
Like “The Sign of Four,” this novel is told in two parts. It begins in England when Holmes and Watson are called to a country manor to investigate a puzzling murder. The circumstances are made more unusual by the fact that Holmes has already had word of the murder through an informant, and suspects his criminal opponent Moriarty is involved. The murder scene, when they arrive, is essentially untouched, and there are lots of puzzling clues, almost too many. To make matters more complicated, the house is surrounded by a working moat, and the murderer seems to have left through a window and into the moat itself, though no trace of him can be found on the grounds except for a bicycle hidden in the bushes and unclaimed.
As Holmes and Watson investigate, suspicion falls on the murdered man’s new bride and/or a close friend staying at the house. The staff servants are also under some suspicion. As usual, Watson tries to figure things out, and gets wrong ideas, while Holmes develops his own theories, and plans a big reveal of them at the scene of the murder. What happens then is quite surprising!
The second half of the book takes place in America, in a coal mining region that suggests West Virginia or Pennsylvania. There a criminal gang masked as members of the free-masons have grown to great power, intimidating and murdering any mine owners or honest workers who oppose them. The story follows a free-mason from Chicago, on the lam from the police there for a murder, who enters the Valley of Fear, as it’s nicknamed, and soon works himself up to a place of importance in the criminal gang. How this relates to the first half of the story you’ll have to find out by reading it yourself, but both halves are exciting and entertaining.
This novel does follow in the path of “The Sign of Four,” so is not as fresh as that book, but it’s still a fine read and highly recommended.