Valley of Fear

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Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Doyles were a prosperous Irish-Catholic family, who had a prominent position in the world of Art. Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur's father, a chronic alcoholic, was the only member of his family, who apart from fathering a brilliant son, never accomplished anything of note. At the age of twenty-two, Charles had married Mary Foley, a vivacious and very well educated young woman of seventeen.

At the beginning of the tale, Holmes receives a coded letter informing him that something sinister is about to happen at a country estate called Birlstone. Shortly afterwards, and before Holmes can act on the warning, he receives further word that Birlstone's owner, the American Jack Douglas, has been found dead in his study at the manor house, his face destroyed by a shotgun blast. Douglas's body was discovered by his old friend, Cecil Barker, who was a frequent visitor at the estate.

As Holmes and the local authorities pursue their investigations, the plot thickens (doesn't it always?). Certain clues point to the fact that the killer might also have been an American. Then there's the problem of the drawbridge – the estate is equipped with a large moat and a working drawbridge which was raised (that is, closed) every night. The moat is too extensive to cross easily, and with the drawbridge up and no strangers in the house, the murder begins to look like "an inside job." Add to that the odd behavior of the dead man's widow, a strange tattoo on his body, the discovery of a hidden bicycle which might have been used by the murderer, and a single dumbbell that seems to fascinate Holmes – and the mystery becomes more and more puzzling. Of course, Holmes eventually presents his solution of the crime – but only after uncovering the story of Douglas's past life in America.

I've read most of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and novels – well, a lot of them anyway. But I had managed to...
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