Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fortnightly Book, April 26

There should be no combination of events for which the wit of man cannot conceive an explanation.

The next fortnightly books will be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most popular Holmes novel and his least read Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear.

Hound, which is widely regarded as one of the great detective stories of all time, was serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902. Benefiting from the extraordinary success of the Holmes short stories and building on Doyle's strengths and interests, unleashed on a public that was hungry for more Holmes after Doyle had killed him off eight years earlier, it took the world by storm, and its success was what convinced Doyle to try to write more Sherlock Holmes tales.

Valley, which is the Holmes novel people are least likely to have read, was serialised in The Strand Magazine in 1914 and 1915. As with his first two novels, Doyle combines Holmesian detection with an exotic foreign locale, this time the strange and wild land of Pennsylvania, where coal miners are legion and struggles between miners and owners have come to a boiling point, with the latter bringing in the Pinkertons. However, there's more here than meets the idea; offstage, in the shadows, Professor Moriarty is spinning a complicated and dangerous web. Despite everyone knowing Moriarty as his witness, this is the only story other than "The Final Problem" in which Moriarty is definitely involved (although Moriarty is mentioned briefly in five other late stories). Indeed, part of Valley's purpose seems to be to fill in a bit of the backstory about the enmity between Holmes and Moriarty.

While both Hound and Valley are written after Holmes's death in "The Final Problem", they are both a return to the pre-death Holmes. (Valley, in fact, creates one of the well-known puzzles for enthusiasts of the Great Game, since in "The Final Problem" Watson seems to be completely ignorant of Moriarty, whereas here, despite the story being set earlier, Watson knows him very well.

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