Professor Moriarty returns in The Valley of Fear

Sherlock uncovers a message from within the heart of Professor Moriarty’s crime syndicate…

Sherlock receives a heavily encoded note from Porlock, an informant from within Moriarty’s organisation. Unlocking the code within it using a Whitaker’s Almanac, it is revealed that the letter is a warning that an individual named Douglas is in danger. Unfortunately Inspector MacDonald from Scotland Yard informs Holmes that Douglas has been murdered that morning.

It emerges that John Douglas was an American married to an English woman. Investigating the corpse, Douglas’ head has been blown off with a shotgun, his wedding ring removed and a note inscribed ‘V.V. 341’ found nearby. A strange symbol has also been branded, not tattooed, half-way up his arm. It was his friend Cecil James Baker who found the corpse but Holmes notes that neither Barker or Mrs Barker are effected by the death in the expected way. And why is there a missing dumbbell?

This was an intriguing case but as with the other longer cases, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, the mystery is resolved fairly early on and the remainder of the story centres on America. Much of the backstory lies in the Pennsylvania coal mines and the Pinkertons and while it remained an entertaining read, it’s not always what I want from a Sherlock Holmes story.

There is also some confusion as to when this story is set. This is supposed to be set before The Final Problem, when Moriarty is first introduced. In The Final Problem Watson is unaware of Moriarty yet by the end of this story, his entire organisation is discussed and dissected. Selective memory from Dr Watson?!

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Tomorrow it is the beginning of the collection His Last Bow and The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

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