This is the forth and final of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes long stories (which means that I can now return one of my Sherlock Holmes omnibus' to my Dad – all I have to do now is read through the rest of the short stories, which I am sure to some time) and seems to run along the same structure as the first book, A Study in Scarlet. In fact it appears that he uses exactly the same technique as he does in the first book, but as they say, if you hit upon a winner, why not use it again.
There is a number of similarities between the two stories in that both of them are focused on a cult that operates out of one of the more lawless regions of the United States, both of them use violence to enforce their will and to keep the population of the region in fear, and both of them involve a protagonist who flees to England to try to get out of the reach of this organisation (only to fail in the end). However, in this particular story we seem to have more of a focus on Moriarty, despite him being more of a shadow that exists in the background rather than a major protagonist (in a way one could see him as the puppet master, though I wonder if Moriarty actually appears in more stories than simply this one and the short story The Final Solution).
One of the things that seemed to strike me in this story is the way that the group seems to be based upon Freemasonry. As I have mentioned previously there are a lot of groups out there that love to attack Freemasonry, however I will take the same position as I have before and say that since I do not personally know anything about the inner workings of the organisation I do not believe that I am in a position to make any comment about the organisation. One of the reasons that I take this position is because there are a lot of people out there that will openly attack Christianity in the same way. If, in that case, people can ignorantly attack Christianity despite the fact that Christianity has actually done a lot of good for the world, is it also not possible that the same can be the case for Freemasonry.
Some suggest that because the Freemasons tend to have a lot of high profile individuals connected with them, as well as an extraordinary number of police officers, then they must be up to no good. Once again I point to Christianity which, surprisingly, is also the case. In fact the whole child sex scandal with regards to the Catholic Church is a case in point. Theoretically people who work for the Catholic Church are in the employ of the Vatican, and guess what, the Vatican is a sovereign state, which means that certain members can obtain diplomatic immunity. If they wish to escape prosecution, then all they need to do is to hide behind the walls of the Vatican and they are suddenly out of the reach of the law.
I suspect that Doyle is modelling his group on the Freemasons, though it is noticeable that the members of this group tend to be crooks and violent men (something which Freemasonry is not – one of the things that I do know is that they pride themselves on the integrity of their members). There is also the connection to Moriarty, who as I have mentioned before, is the puppet master. It seems that this group is one of his many organisations of which he sits at the top, but maintains a far enough distance that it is difficult for anybody to actually find a connection.
One of the things that I am considering though is rereading this books at another time. I did quite enjoy them, but at times it can be difficult to follow them. I quite liked how the sawn-off shotgun was used in this one, and it rather surprised me because that was something I thought only appears in more modern stories and movies. He is also quite clever in that the gun pretty much destroyed the identity of the victim, and as such we have a bit of a switch involved. I did quite enjoy this book, and I must say that it is something that I would like to return to at a later date.