Sigh. This book is not one of the greatest mysteries ever written. The first half is still enjoyable, as spending time with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is never tasking. But the second half is all flashback concerning other characters entirely. The format of flashback-that-explains-everything annoyed me a bit in A Study in Scarlet, but here it feels downright contrived. I get the impression that Doyle wanted to write an adventure story about lodge members in America, but he had people clamoring for more Holmes stories, so he came up with a way to turn the one into the other. I have no idea if that's really what was going on when he wrote this, but that's how it strikes me.
The mystery of the first half is a sort of locked-room mystery involving the murder of a well-liked American living in Britain. Parts of it reminded me a lot of Laura by Vera Caspary, and others made me think of an earlier Holmes story, "The Golden Pince-Nez." The flashback is all about who wanted to murder that man and why, and it deals with a bunch of murderous members of a band of "freemen" who terrorized a coal mining community in America.
While only the first half involves Sherlock Holmes, the second half is a good adventure story, with
some interesting characters and lots of action. So it's not by any
means onerous to read.
Particularly Good Bits:
Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius (p. 238).
"It is, I admit, mere imagination; but how often is imagination the mother of truth?" (p. 274).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for violence.