I’ve been in the Valley of Fear recently.
It started when I bought a copy of Murderland at the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis auction on May 14. This companion volume to the Baker Street Irregulars expedition to Jim Thorpe, PA, and environs in 2004—site of the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel—is a wonderful little book with essays covering both historical and literary analysis of Valley.
Steven T. Doyle writes about the Mollie Maguires of fact vs. the Scowrers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction, for example, while Gary Lovisi deftly explores Birdy Edwards as the first hard-boiled detective of fiction. (In my mystery novel Queen City Corpse, one of the characters writes a series of Birdy Edwards novels—which I still think is a crackerjack idea.) And the manuscript notes for the novel in ACD’s own hand are reproduced here for the first time.
“The Valley of Fear on Film,” Pat Ward’s largely positive take 1935’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, caused me to watch for the first time a movie I’ve owned for years. And it’s great!
I agree with Pat that it has a weak supporting cast, with a Watson whom she accurately characterizes as a “pompous popinjay.” The film has more of Moriarty than the novel, which is all to the good, but Lyn Harding is a bit over-the-top in the role. Arthur Wontner, on the other hand, is an excellent Holmes who looks just like the Frank Wiles portrait for The Valley of Fear that caused ACD to say, “This comes nearest to my conception of what he really looked like.”
The scriptwriters did superb job of making the second half of the novel—the world’s first hard-boiled detective story—into a flashback that is the middle part of the movie. And, best of all, they retained this glorious exchange between Boss McGinty and the man he knew as McMurdo:
“Is he here? Is Birdy here?”
“Yes, Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!”
Asked for his favorite passage of English prose, T.S. Eliot—one of the greatest poets of the Twentieth Century—gave that interchange as his response, delivered with appropriate gestures.
The Valley of Fear is nowhere near as famous to the general public as The Hound of the Baskervilles. But count me among those who consider it a masterwork—two great short novels in one. I’m grateful that Murderland made me take another look at it. Unfortunately, Murderland is out of print. But if you can find it, get it!
|Sherlock Holmes by Frank Wiles|