I’ve long thought that one of the most underrated volumes in the Canon is The Valley of Fear. It’s really two great tales in one – an excellent mystery unraveled by Sherlock Holmes, and a backstory that Steven Doyle says (correctly) is the world’s first hard-boiled detective story.
My favorable opinion is not a complete outlier. Mystery great John Dickson Carr listed Valley as one of the 10 best mystery novels, and Curtis Armstrong, BSI, said recently on the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” podcast that it is his current favorite of the Holmes novels. Curtis called it “noir,” which is pretty much another way of saying hard-boiled.
Steve Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes for Dummies first alerted me to the ground-breaking nature of the second part of the book, “The Scowrers.” How fitting, then, that it was in Steve’s magnificent library that I first saw the incredible Hard Case Crime edition of the book published in 2009.
Hard Case is a paperback series of private eye novels, old and new. Whether a particular volume just came out of the author’s computer or was first published in 1917, the front and back cover always evokes the style of the Mike Hammer books from the 1950s. Accordingly, the front The Valley of Fear in this edition features a scantily clad damsel and the chilling words, “They All Answered to The BODYMASTER!” It also correctly notes, “INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY.”
The back cover is even more over-the-top:
YEARS AGO, A PI OUT OF CHICAGO
BROUGHT JUST TO A DIRTY TOWN.NOW HE’S GOING TO PAY.
A sawed-off shotgun blast to the face leaves one man dead – and reveals a secret that has pursued another across an ocean and set the world’s most ruthless criminal on his trail. The man needs the help of a great detective . . . but could even Sherlock Holmes help him now?
That’s great writing, folks!
Happily, a copy of this edition came my way recently as a gift from Gary Reibert of the Agra Treasurers in Dayton. It’s a wonderful addition to my Sherlockian library, and I will always prize it.
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