Cover of the September 1914 issue of the Strand Magazine featuring The Valley of Fear.

The Valley of Fear is a Sherlock Holmes novel by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the last of the four novels and the 47th of 60 tales overall of the Sherlock Holmes Canon. The story was originally serialized in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915. It was first published in a single volume in February 1915 in the United States. The first British book edition was published in June of the same year.

The novel is divided into two parts in a structure reminiscent of the first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet. The first part, subtitled "The Tragedy of Birlstone", is the murder mystery while the second part, subtitled "The Scowrers", describes events which took place earlier in America that eventually led to the murder in England.

The mystery concerns a murder in a country manor house built upon the ruins of a feudal castle. The house is surrounded by a moat and the only approach is over a drawbridge. One night, the master of the house John Douglas is found dead from a shotgun wound to the face. A house guest who reached the room within thirty seconds of hearing the shot found no intruders. The drawbridge had been raised earlier so that the house was cut off, yet there are no signs of the murderer wading through the moat and climbing out on the other side. The famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is called in to assist Scotland Yard and the local police on the classic locked-room mystery. The investigation soon reveals that Douglas had made not only his fortune but also some powerful enemies in America. The American backstory about a secret organization called the Scowrers is a fictional account of the Molly Maguires and the labor unrest in Pennsylvania in the1870s.[1]

The Valley of Fear has been adapted to other media many times.


Part I

The Valley of Fear 02

Holmes examines a cipher message at breakfast. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1914).

At breakfast on a January morning, Holmes examines a cipher message written on a slip of paper. He says to his friend and housemate Dr. Watson that the message was sent by an informant who is known only by his alias, Fred Porlock. Porlock is associated with Professor Moriarty,[2] a distinguished mathematician and a criminal mastermind. The message reads "534 C2 13 127 36 31 4 17 21 41 DOUGLAS 109 293 5 37 BIRLSTONE 26 BIRLSTONE 9 47 171". Holmes expects the key to the cipher, without which the message is useless, to come in the next post. The letter arrives shortly, but it turns out to be just a quick note from Porlock to say that he is being suspected and cannot send the key as planned.

Rather than destroy the message as Porlock requests, Holmes decides to try deducing the key from the message. He believes the numbers refer to words in a book, with 534 indicating the page number and C2 standing for column two. Therefore, the book must be a large one laid out in columns. Porlock had intended to send the key and not the book, so the book must be a common one that he expects Holmes to own. Holmes and Watson narrow it down to Whitaker's Almanack. The 13th and 127th words on page 534, column 2 read "there is". Encouraged, Holmes reads off the words and Watson writes down the decoded message: "There is danger may come very soon one Douglas rich country now at Birlstone House Birlstone confidence is pressing."

As they discuss the message, Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard arrives. The inspector is just beginning to explain the reason for his early visit when he notices the deciphered message on the table. He stares at it in amazement then tells Holmes that Mr. Douglas of Birlstone Manor House was murdered last night. Holmes and Watson accompany the inspector to Birlstone, Sussex. On the way MacDonald explains how the case came to him so quickly. The local officer, White Mason, is a personal friend of MacDonald's. Mason sent him a private letter along with the official request for Scotland Yard's assistance, asking him to come right away with Holmes if possible. The official report states that John Douglas died from a shotgun wound to the head, undoubtedly murdered but under perplexing circumstances.

They arrive at the Birlstone station at noon and are welcomed by White Mason. Mason, who is the chief Sussex detective, leads them to the local inn then briefs them on the known facts of the case. The Manor House is a brick country house built upon the ruins of a feudal castle. The house is surrounded by a shallow moat which is only a foot away from the ground-floor windows. The only approach to the house is over a drawbridge which is raised every evening. John Douglas, a rugged fifty-year-old man with a grizzled mustache, made his fortune in the Californian gold fields. Mrs. Douglas is an English lady and about twenty years younger than her husband. She and Douglas met in London. They married five years ago then moved into the Manor House. They have one frequent visitor by the name of Cecil James Barker. Barker is a rich bachelor and several years younger than Douglas. He is an Englishman but is said to have met Douglas in America.

At 11:45pm on the previous evening, Cecil Barker arrived at the local police station to report John Douglas had been murdered at the Manor House. Barker and the police sergeant arrived at the house shortly after midnight. Dr. Wood from the village arrived at the same time, and all three went into the study, which is next to the main entrance, followed by Ames the butler. The dead man lay on his back in the center of the room, clad in a dressing gown over his night clothes. His head, obviously shot at close range, was blown to pieces. A sawed-off shotgun was lying on the victim's chest. According to Barker, nothing had been moved since he discovered the body. He stated that he heard a muffled shot at 11:30 and rushed into the room. The door was open and the candle was lit on the table. He saw no one even though he reached the room within 30 seconds of hearing the shot. Mrs. Douglas came down behind him. Barker prevented her from entering the room and had Mrs. Allen, the housekeeper, take her away. Then he went back into the room with Ames. The curtain was closed but they found the window open, with a bloody boot print on the sill. The intruder must have been hiding in the house since before 6:00pm when Ames raised the drawbridge. After shooting Mr. Douglas, the man apparently escaped through the window and waded across the moat.

The Valley of Fear 05

Dr. Wood kneels down to examine the body. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1914).

A card was found on the floor next to the body with "V.V. 341" scrawled on it. There was a large hammer on the rug in front of the fireplace. According to Barker, Douglas had been fixing the pictures during the day. Muddy boot prints were found behind the curtains indicating the intruder had hidden there. According to Ames, the curtains were drawn after 4:00pm. Dr. Wood noted a curious branded mark on the dead man's forearm, a triangle inside a circle. Both Barker and Ames stated they had seen it on Douglas' arm but neither knew what it was. The butler noticed that the wedding ring was missing which Douglas always wore on his left hand under the ornamental ring. Oddly, only the wedding ring was taken and the ornamental ring was put back on the victim's finger.

White Mason arrived at 3:00am and sent his message to Inspector MacDonald by the early train. Mason examined the hammer and found no stains on it. The barrel of the gun was sawed off so that only a small part of the maker's name was left. Mason says it read "Pen" with a flourish above the P. Holmes identifies the maker as Pennsylvania Small Arms Company, an American gun manufacturer. Mason concludes the intruder was an American. MacDonald, however, is not convinced that there is enough evidence to support a stranger in the house. Encouraged by Holmes, he states his case against the intruder theory. The ring and the card point to premeditated murder, not burglary. An assassin would not have selected such a loud weapon knowing the difficulty in getting away across the moat. Holmes agrees with MacDonald and asks Mason if he found any signs of the man climbing out of the moat. Mason says there are no marks or tracks. Holmes suggests going to the house at once.

The three detectives and Watson walk to the Manor and examine the moat before entering the house. Mason dismisses the sergeant who had been left guarding the scene. He then presents his own views on the case. He thinks an insider is unlikely because a noisy weapon was used at a time when the house was quiet yet no one was asleep. There was no time for the murderer to take the ring and falsify marks around the window before the noise brought everyone to the scene. Mason thinks it was more likely an outsider, probably an American with a private grudge. The candle on the table was new and had only burnt a little, indicating the interview between the murderer and Douglas was a short one. For some reason, the man demanded the wedding ring before shooting Douglas. He dropped the gun and the card before escaping just as Barker arrived.

The Valley of Fear 08

Holmes examines the window sill. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1914).

Holmes declares Mason's theory interesting but unconvincing. However, he declines to theorize himself before he gathers more facts. He interviews the butler and learns that Douglas had been uncharacteristically restless and nervous during the day. He then examines the card and determines that the writing does not match the pen and ink found on the desk in the room. Both MacDonald and Mason feel the branded symbol on the victim's arm and the "V.V. 341" on the card suggest a secret society. An agent could have killed Douglas and left the card as a sign of vengeance. Holmes examines the window sill and finds the print remarkably broad compared to the muddy prints on the floor which are more shapely. He then examines the rest of the room and finds a single dumbbell, one of a pair, under the side table. He is questioning Ames about the missing second dumbbell when Barker enters. Barker says that a bicycle has been found hidden in the bushes nearby. The inspector wonders why the murderer left it behind and how he got away without it.

After examining the bicycle, the detectives return to the house and settle in the dining room to conduct interviews. They begin with the butler. Ames says he was engaged five years ago. He describes Douglas as a "kind and considerate employer" and "the most fearless man" he has ever known. Douglas seldom left the village, but on the day before had gone shopping at Tunbridge Wells. He was unusually impatient and irritable that day. Ames was in the pantry at the back of the house and did not hear the shot. The bell rang violently, and he went to the front with the housekeeper. He saw Mrs. Douglas come down the stairs. She was not hurrying and did not appear particularly agitated. Mr. Barker rushed out of the room and begged her to go back to her room, saying "Poor Jack is dead. You can do nothing." Mrs. Allen took Mrs. Douglas upstairs and stayed with her. Ames went into the study with Barker. The candle was out and the lamp was lit. They looked around the room first, then Ames lowered the drawbridge and Barker went to get the police.

Mrs. Allen is interviewed next. She states that she was in her room, which is closer to the front of the house than the pantry, when the bell rang. She is a little hard of hearing and did not hear the shot, but she remembers hearing a door being slammed about half an hour earlier. She went to the front with Ames. She took Mrs. Douglas upstairs to the bedroom and tried to sooth her. Mrs. Douglas was greatly excited and trembling. Other servants had all gone to bed. They were in the extreme back of the house and could not possibly have heard anything.

Cecil Barker adds little to the events of the night but offers a theory about the murder. He says there were some chapters in Douglas' life he never spoke about. Douglas emigrated to America from Ireland as a young man. Barker met him in California. They were partners for five years in a successful mining claim before Douglas suddenly sold out and left for England six years ago. They renewed their friendship after Barker returned to London. Barker suspects, from some remarks Douglas had made, that some secret society was after him and that was why he moved to such a quiet place after the wedding. Douglas' first wife died of typhoid fever a year before Barker met him. Douglas had worked in Chicago and traveled a good deal prior to settling in California. Shortly after his sudden departure, some rough-looking men came inquiring for him.

MacDonald asks Barker about the nature of his relationship with Mrs. Douglas and whether Mr. Douglas approved of their friendship. Barker becomes quite upset at the implications and refuses to answer at first. But he soon thinks better of it and replies that Douglas was a jealous type and would sometimes fly off the handle. He would quickly regret it, however, and implore Barker to come visit again. Barker swears that Mrs. Douglas is devoted to her husband. MacDonald thinks the missing wedding ring suggests a connection between the marriage and the murder. Barker says he is certain the missing ring has nothing to do with Mrs. Douglas' honor, but he cannot offer any explanations for it. Holmes asks Barker to clarify how the candle became unlit in the short interval between the discovery of the body and the arrival of Ames. Barker says he simply lit the lamp for better light and blew out the candle.

The Valley of Fear 10

The detectives interview Mrs. Douglas. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1914).

Mrs. Douglas enters next. She is tall and beautiful. Although she is pale, her manner is composed. She confirms the events of the previous night. MacDonald asks if her husband spoke of anything from the past that might bring danger to him. Mrs. Douglas says her husband refused to discuss it but she knew there was danger hanging over him. He was always on guard against some powerful enemies. She says he spoke of having been in "the Valley of Fear." She is certain he was referring to some real valley where something terrible had happened. She also remembers her husband speaking the name Bodymaster McGinty when he was delirious with fever three years ago. MacDonald asks if she has any theories as to why an old enemy would take her husband's wedding ring. Watson observes a hint of a smile on Mrs. Douglas' lips before she answers that she does not know.

After Mrs. Douglas leaves, Holmes rings for Ames to ask what Barker was wearing on his feet when the body was discovered. Ames says Barker was wearing his bedroom slippers which were stained with blood. The slippers are still under the hall chair where Barker put on his boots before going to the police. Holmes brings the slippers into the study and places one on the mark on the window sill. He smiles as it matches the print, proving Barker had marked the window himself.

The detectives have more details to look into, so Watson decides to take a stroll in the garden before heading back to the inn. As he comes to the farthest side of the garden from the house, he hears voices from behind the hedges – a man's voice followed by a feminine laughter. He goes around and is shocked to see Mrs. Douglas and Barker smiling. They see Watson and quickly resume their solemn composure. Then Barker approaches and asks Watson to come speak to Mrs. Douglas. Realizing the impression she has just made on Watson, Mrs. Douglas implores him to reserve his judgment and asks for his guidance on a matter. She says they need to know whether Holmes would be obligated to share everything with the police if they were to bring confidential information to him. Watson tells her that Holmes is an independent investigator and would use his own judgment.

When Watson reports the incident to Holmes later back at the inn, Holmes says he does not want their confidences in case they are involved in a conspiracy and murder. Holmes is in an excellent humor. He mischievously teases Watson for not having realized the importance of the missing dumbbell then makes him wait for the explanation while he devours his meal. After the meal, he finally sits down with his pipe and discusses the case with the befuddled Watson.

Holmes says he knows Barker's story to be a lie. Since Mrs. Douglas corroborates Barker's story, he knows she is also lying. The assassin could not have taken the ring and left the card in under a minute after the shot was fired. On the other hand, he could not have forced Douglas to give up the ring before the shot if they had a short interview as indicated by the candle. Therefore, Holmes deduces that the interview lasted some time and that the lamp, not the candle, was lit. The shot must also have been fired earlier. Holmes ascertained by experimenting that no noise in the study could reach the pantry where the butler was. However, some loud noises could be vaguely heard from the housekeeper's room. He is certain that the sound the housekeeper heard half an hour earlier which she thought was a slamming door had been the actual shot. The question then becomes what Barker and Mrs. Douglas were doing for thirty minutes before ringing the bell.

Watson wants to know if Holmes thinks Barker and Mrs. Douglas killed Douglas. Holmes says they clearly know the truth but it is unclear whether they are guilty of murder. Although most of the false evidences would fit if they murdered the husband and made up the story about the Valley of Fear, the missing ring and the choice of weapon cannot be explained. Holmes suggests an alternate explanation. If Douglas had a horrible secret from the past which led to the murder, the assassin may have convinced Barker and Mrs. Douglas that his arrest would lead to a terrible scandal. They may have let him go, lowering the drawbridge then raising it again afterwards, before realizing that they may look guilty of the murder themselves.

Holmes says he has arranged with Ames to spend the evening alone in the study. He then asks to borrow Watson's big umbrella. Inspector MacDonald and White Mason join them in the early evening to report that they have traced the bicycle. They took the bicycle to Tunbridge Wells where Douglas possibly became aware of the danger. The manager of one of the hotels identified the bicycle as belonging to an American named Hargrave who registered two days ago. Hargrave left the hotel on his bicycle yesterday morning and has not returned. They found no identification among his belongings. The hotel staff described him as about fifty years-old with grizzled hair and a moustache, about five foot nine in height. He wore an overcoat which could have easily concealed the shotgun. MacDonald theorizes that Hargrave intended to shoot Douglas outside, but was forced to go inside when Douglas did not appear. After the murder, he left the bicycle which would be identified by the hotel employees and made his way to a prearranged hiding place. Holmes congratulates the detectives but decides to stick to his own theory and investigation.

Holmes returns late that night to the double-bedded room at the inn after Watson has already gone to sleep. Watson stirs and asks if he found out anything. Holmes calls himself "an idiot whose mind has lost its grip" and refuses to say anything more for the night.

In the morning, Holmes and Watson find MacDonald and Mason going through a pile of tips from all over the country regarding the missing American. Holmes advises them to abandon their line of investigation. He will not share his thoughts with them until he has finished verifying his details, but he offers some hints. He says he read in a small local pamphlet that Charles I hid in the Manor House for several days during the Civil War.[3] He also says that, according to Ames, Mrs. Douglas ate a good dinner yesterday. Then he reports that he has found the missing dumbbell. Holmes then asks MacDonald to write a note to Barker advising him that the moat will be drained in the morning in the hope of finding additional evidence. He tells MacDonald to have the note delivered by hand at 4:00pm then come back to the inn with Mason before dusk without fail.

The Valley of Fear 13

A man leans out of the study window and fishes out a large round object. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

MacDonald and Mason join Holmes and Watson at dusk and they walk to the rails around the Manor House grounds. They slip through a gap in the fence and hide behind the shrubbery opposite the main entrance across the drawbridge which has been left down. Holmes asks for patience as the inspector expresses annoyance at Holmes' secretive ways. After a long time in the dark and cold night, Holmes finally sees what he was waiting for. The study window opens and a man leans out. He stirs up the moat with something held in his hand and fishes out a large round object. Holmes cries out "Now!" and they all run across the bridge. Holmes rings the bell and rushes by Ames as he opens the door. The whole party follows Holmes into the study.

Cecil Barker cries out "What the devil is the meaning of all this?" Holmes pounces on a bundle under the writing table and tells Barker that it is what they are after. He then reveals that he had found the bundle the previous night with assistance from Ames and Watson's umbrella. He replaced it in order to prove who placed it there. He unties the bundle and removes the missing dumbbell which had been used as a weight. He then takes out a pair of American-made boots, a long knife, and a set of clothing including an overcoat. The coat has a modified inner pocket which extends into the lining to accommodate a sawed-off shotgun. The tailor's mark reads "Neal, Outfitter, Vermissa, U.S.A." Holmes has looked up Vermissa and learned it is a town near a well-known coal and iron valley. He believes "V.V." on the card stands for "Vermissa Valley", also known as the Valley of Fear. Holmes gives Barker a chance to offer explanations, but Barker defiantly refuses and states that it is not his secret to give away. Inspector MacDonald threatens to get a warrant to hold him, but Barker still refuses to talk.

Mrs. Douglas enters the room and tells Barker that he has done enough. Holmes agrees and encourages her to take the police into her confidence. He then urges her to "ask Mr. Douglas to tell us his own story." Mrs. Douglas cries out in astonishment. Then a man appears from nowhere in the corner of the room. Mrs. Douglas embraces him and assures him that it is for the best. The man stands blinking, apparently having come out of a dark hideout and just getting used to the light. He then approaches Watson and hands him a bundle of paper. He says he spent the last two days writing down his story, and Watson is welcome to tell it to the public in his own way. He calls it the story of the Valley of Fear.

The Valley of Fear 14

A man appears from nowhere and is embraced by Mrs. Douglas. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

Holmes asks Douglas to tell his story, not of the past but of the present. MacDonald wants to know above all whose death they have been investigating. He also asks where Douglas just came from. Holmes reproaches the inspector for not reading the local pamphlet about the concealment of King Charles which suggested a secret hiding place. MacDonald is upset at Holmes for not revealing his secrets earlier. Holmes explains that it was not until he found the bundle of clothes that he realized the victim had been the American bicyclist and not Douglas. He then knew Douglas was hiding in the house with the help of his wife and his friend.

Douglas admits he had planned to evade the law. He also says he saw the opportunity to finally be freed from his enemies. He explains that, although he has done nothing to be ashamed of, there are men who have good cause to hate him. They hunted him from Chicago to California then out of America. He never spoke to his wife about his past so as not to worry her. Douglas says he was in Tunbridge Wells the day before the incident when he caught a glimpse of his worst enemy, Ted Baldwin. He returned home and prepared to face him. He was on his guard and stayed indoors, never dreaming that he would be confronted in the evening after the bridge was up. Douglas says he sensed the danger as soon as he entered the study. He then spotted a boot under the curtain. He put down the candle and grabbed the hammer he had left on the mantel earlier. Baldwin came at him with the knife, but he managed to hit back with the hammer. The knife dropped, and Baldwin took out the shotgun and cocked it. Douglas grabbed the barrel and they wrestled for it. The gun went off in the struggle and Baldwin was hit in the face.

The Valley of Fear 15

Douglas and Baldwin wrestle for the gun. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

Douglas goes on to explain what happened after the shot. Barker came rushing down first. Then Douglas heard his wife coming down. He went to the door to stop her from entering the room. When no one else came, they realized the servants did not hear the shot. Then Douglas saw the branded mark on the dead man's arm and got an idea. He and Baldwin shared not only the mark but also the grizzled hair, and they were of similar height and build. Douglas changed into a suit and put his dressing gown on the body with help from Barker. They then disposed of Baldwin's clothes. Douglas remembered to put his rings on the dead man, but he had trouble removing the wedding ring and had to do without it. Douglas says he had hoped to get away and be joined by his wife later. With his enemies believing him dead, they would have lived in peace for the rest of their lives.

Having made his statement, Douglas asks how he stands by the English law. Holmes tells him that the law is just. Holmes is troubled, however, by the fact that Baldwin somehow found out where Douglas lived and knew how to get into the house and where to hide. He warns Douglas that he may face dangers worse than the law or even his American enemies.

Part I ends with Watson's introduction to the second part of the story which takes place twenty years earlier in America. He leaves his readers with the assurance that he will return after the mystery of the past is resolved to conclude the story of the present.

Part II

Part II opens in February 1875[4] in the gorges of the Gilmerton Mountains in the United States. A single-track railroad connects a long line of mining settlements to the central township of Vermissa at the head of Vermissa Valley. A young Irishman about thirty years of age sits in a carriage crowded with miners and other workmen returning home from the day's work. A workman notices that the young man is carrying a revolver and begins to talk to him. The young man says that he has just arrived from Chicago where the gun is sometimes needed. He has come to the valley looking for work. Although he has no friends in the area, he expects to make some quickly because he belongs to the Eminent Order of Freemen whose lodge can be found in every town. The workman says he belongs to the same organization and introduces himself as Brother Scanlan of Lodge 341. The young man in turn introduces himself as Brother John McMurdo. He is on his way to Jacob Shafter's boarding house in Vermissa. Scanlan advises him to go to the Union House and see Boss McGinty, the Bodymaster of Vermissa Lodge.

After Scanlan gets off at his station, two policemen riding in the same carriage approach McMurdo and advise him to stay away from Mike Scanlan and his gang. McMurdo explodes in a fury at the unwanted advice and vehemently expresses his low opinion of policemen. The miners are impressed by the newcomer's dauntless demeanor. One man offers to walk McMurdo to the boarding house as he gets off the train at Vermissa. On the way, the guide points out the Union House saloon which is owned by the famous Jack McGinty of the Scowrers. McMurdo says he has read in the Chicago newspapers that the Scowrers are murderers. The guide is greatly alarmed by the comment and warns McMurdo never to say such a thing in public.

At the boarding house, McMurdo is greeted by Jacob Shafter's daughter Ettie who is an extremely beautiful young woman. McMurdo is so entranced that he readily agrees to all terms and takes up residence with the Shafters. The charismatic McMurdo quickly becomes popular with all the boarders. He declares his love to Ettie right away and pursues her relentlessly. She tries to discourage him at first, but she is soon won over.

One evening about a week after his arrival, McMurdo is visited by Mike Scanlan. Scanlan is concerned that McMurdo has not yet gone to see Boss McGinty. McMurdo does not understand what is so pressing, but Scanlan tells him not to cross McGinty and urges him to go at once to see him. That evening, Jacob Shafter calls McMurdo into his room. Having noticed McMurdo's attentions on Ettie, Shafter informs him that she is already spoken for by Teddy Baldwin. Baldwin is a Boss of Scowrers, a murder society also known as the Eminent Order of Freemen. McMurdo tells Shafter that he is himself a member. He explains that the Order is an innocent organization for charity work and fellowship, but Shafter tells him to move out by the following day.

McMurdo goes to speak to Ettie in her room. He tells her he cannot live without her and asks her to marry him. Ettie says she would marry him only if he can take her and her father away. She loathes Baldwin but is afraid of him and the Scowrers. McMurdo tells her that he is not afraid and will not be driven out of town. He promises her no harm will come to her or to her father.

The door opens suddenly and Baldwin enters. He is a dashing young man about the same age and build as McMurdo. He looks at Ettie and McMurdo savagely then tells McMurdo that the young lady belongs to him. When McMurdo refuses to leave, Baldwin rolls up his sleeve to reveal a branded mark on his arm, a triangle inside a circle, and promises McMurdo that he will soon learn its meaning. After Baldwin storms out of the room, McMurdo and Ettie agree that McMurdo should go down and befriend McGinty right away.

The Valley of Fear 21

McMurdo introduces himself to McGinty. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

McMurdo walks into McGinty's crowded saloon. McGinty is popular and at the same time feared throughout the valley and in the areas immediately beyond the mountains. He is an elected public official, and his corrupt influences have made him a very rich man. McMurdo spots McGinty sitting at the far end of the bar smoking a cigar and pushes through the crowd. He goes straight up to the man to introduce himself. McGinty is intrigued by the audacious young man and invites him into the back room for an interview.

In the small back room, McGinty takes out a revolver and tells McMurdo he will shoot him if he lies. He then questions McMurdo about his previous lodge and about his past. McMurdo reluctantly confesses that he killed a man named Jonas Pinto in Chicago. McMurdo was forging dollar coins and Pinto was helping him pass them into circulation. They had a disagreement, so he shot him and got out of town. McMurdo shows McGinty several coins from his pocket. McGinty declares McMurdo will make "a mighty useful brother." He then commends McMurdo for not squirming when he pointed his gun at him. McMurdo takes out a cocked pistol from his pocket and tells McGinty that he had him covered the whole time. McGinty turns red with anger for a brief moment then bursts out laughing.

They are interrupted by Ted Baldwin. Baldwin is furious to see McMurdo there ahead of him. McMurdo asks McGinty to judge between them as a Bodymaster. McMurdo says a young lady is free to choose for herself, and Baldwin disagrees. McGinty rules that she is free to choose between two brothers of the Lodge. Baldwin's protests only earn him McGinty's ire. He begrudgingly accepts the Bodymaster's ruling.

The following day, McMurdo moves into an old Irishwoman's house in the outskirts of town. Mike Scanlan moves into the same house shortly afterwards. They are the only lodgers and the landlady gives them plenty of privacy. McMurdo feels safe enough to take out his coining mold. McMurdo spends most evenings at the Union House where he has quickly become a favorite with "the boys." One night, a new captain with the Coal and Iron private police comes into the saloon and recognizes Jack McMurdo, a Chicago crook. McMurdo realizes the man is Teddy Marvin, formerly of the Chicago Central. Marvin accuses McMurdo of shooting Jonas Pinto. McMurdo denies it but everyone hears their exchange. By the time Marvin leaves, McMurdo has become a hero to the crowd.

On Saturday night, McMurdo is put through the initiation ceremony at the Union House. His coat is removed, his right sleeve turned up, and he is tied with a rope above the elbows. He is then blindfolded and led into the large assembly room. McGinty sits at the head of a long table with the higher Lodge officials to his sides. About fifty other members, mostly younger men, are present. McGinty questions the blindfolded McMurdo to confirm he is from a Chicago Lodge. He then calls out for a test. McMurdo nearly faints from the pain as his forearm is branded, but he manages to hide his agony. The assembly applauds loudly in approval, and McMurdo takes his oath to officially join Lodge 341.

After the ceremony, the business of the Lodge is discussed. McMurdo learns that lodges routinely loan men to each other to ensure that dirty work is carried out by people not known in their towns. He also learns that the society extracts "contributions" from company owners who wish to be left alone. An elderly brother named Morris rises and says that they are driving small business owners out of town by squeezing them too hard. Big companies are buying up those businesses they leave behind. Morris warns that the big corporations will eventually break the power of the society. His concerns are shut down by McGinty.

After refreshments and some music, Bodymaster McGinty again addresses the assembly. He calls for retaliation against James Stanger of the Herald who has been writing harsh editorials criticizing the organization. Brother Morris thinks it unwise to strike down a respected elderly man. McGinty admonishes him but agrees that Stanger should not be killed. He asks Baldwin to take some men and deliver a "severe waning" to the editor.

The Valley of Fear 25

McMurdo draws his pistol to stop Baldwin. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

At the Vermissa Herald office, McMurdo and another man guard the door while Baldwin and the others rush up the stairs into the editor's office. Stanger comes running out to the landing. He is knocked down and beaten by sticks. After others have stopped, Baldwin continues to hit the man's head. McMurdo pushes Baldwin back and draws his pistol to make him stop. The commotion begins to attract attention and they are forced to leave quickly.

The next morning, McMurdo receives an unsigned note requesting a meeting at the flagstaff in the Miller Hill public park. McMurdo goes to the deserted park and finds Morris waiting for him. Morris thanks him for coming and explains that the secrecy was necessary because everything gets back to McGinty. McMurdo promises not to repeat anything he says. Morris says he joined the Freeman's Society in Philadelphia where, as in Chicago, it was an innocent club. He was forced to join the Vermissa Lodge after he settled there and opened a dry goods store. He is horrified by the killings but cannot leave the society because he is afraid they will kill him and his family. He asks McMurdo if he is ready to become a cold-blooded murderer, or if they can do anything to stop it. McMurdo tells Morris that he is too soft and advises him to sell his business and get away as soon as possible. Before he leaves, Morris offers McMurdo a job at his store as an excuse for their meeting, just in case they were seen together. For the record, McMurdo acknowledges and declines the offer.

That afternoon, McGinty visits McMurdo and asks what he and Morris were discussing on Miller Hill. Glad to have had his answer prepared, McMurdo tells him about the job offer. McGinty advises him not to associate too closely with Morris because he is not a loyal brother. As McGinty is leaving, the door opens and three policemen enter with guns at the ready. Captain Marvin arrests McMurdo for the attack on the Herald editor. McGinty promises McMurdo he will talk to the lawyer and see to his defense.

McMurdo is put in a cell with Baldwin and three others from the group. Late at night, a jailer brings in a straw bundle for their bedding in which they find bottles of whiskey, glasses, and a pack of cards. In the morning, cross-examination at the trial finds the witnesses unable to swear to the identity of the assailants. Since a strong alibi is provided for the men by McGinty and five others, the case is quickly dismissed.

The Valley of Fear 27

Ettie implores McMurdo to leave the secret society. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

The arrest and acquittal only help to increase McMurdo's popularity among his fellows. Ettie's father, however, would no longer allow McMurdo into his house. One morning, Ettie visits McMurdo to implore him to break off his associations with the Lodge and to go away with her and her father. McMurdo tells her that the Lodge will track them down wherever they go. He promises, however, that he will work out a way to honorably get out of it within a year.

One day, Scanlan and McMurdo receive a note from McGinty asking them to put up two men from another lodge at their house. The request came from the County Delegate who oversees several lodges. The two men arrive in the evening. They are both trusted assassins on a secret mission. McMurdo and Scanlan hear them sneak out of the house before dawn and decide to follow them. The two assassins are joined by three more men beyond the town border. They take the trail leading to Crow Hill, a large mining company whose fearless manager has stood up against the Scowrers' reign of terror. Scanlan and McMurdo follow the assassins to Crow Hill and witness them shoot the manager and the mine engineer in front of a hundred miners waiting to go down at the mine shaft.

That night, the Lodge celebrates not only the Crow Hill killings but also another killing in a different district which was carried out by Baldwin and two others from Lodge 341. At the end of the night, McGinty gives McMurdo his first assignment. He is to kill Chester Wilcox, the chief foreman of the Iron Dike Company and a tough war veteran. Two previous attempts on his life have failed, and a Lodge member was killed. Wilcox lives with his wife and children in an isolated house, and the only chance to get him is at night when he is with his family.

A few nights later, McMurdo and his two young assistants set explosives to Wilcox's house. It is a clean job and the house is destroyed. However, they find out afterwards that Wilcox, alarmed by recent murders, had moved out of the house the previous day. McMurdo swears he will get his man, and the Lodge admires his determination. McMurdo rises quickly to the rank of Inner Deacon.

On a Saturday evening in May, Morris comes to see McMurdo with a letter from a friend in the East. According to the friend, some big corporations and railroads have hired the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency to go after the Scowrers. Their best detective, Birdy Edwards, is said to be on the case. Morris does not want Edwards killed, but he is afraid they will all be hanged if he is not stopped. McMurdo tells Morris to leave it all to him.

The Valley of Fear 29

Morris comes to consult McMurdo. Original illustration for the Strand Magazine by Frank Wiles (1915).

McMurdo destroys all incriminating evidence before leaving the house. He stops to see Ettie on the way to the Lodge. He tells her there is danger coming and asks her to be ready to leave with him as soon as he sends for her. At the weekly assembly, McMurdo delivers the bad news and suggests they form a trusty committee to handle the matter. The assembly breaks up early and leaves McMurdo with McGinty, Baldwin, and five other trusted leaders to take up the issue. McMurdo tells the leaders that he met a New York reporter who is asking around for information on the Scowrers. The man calls himself Steve Wilson, but McMurdo is certain he is Birdy Edwards. McMurdo knows the man is lodging in Hobson's Patch. He believes he can track him down and lure him into an ambush by offering to show him secret Lodge papers.

The next day, McMurdo goes to Hobson's Patch then reports back to McGinty at the Union House. The meeting has been arranged. Edwards will come to McMurdo's house at 10:00pm and knock three times. McMurdo plans to have the Lodge leaders come earlier and wait in the large sitting room. Since Edwards will be armed and on his guard, McMurdo wants a chance to disarm him. He will show Edwards into the parlor and leave him there to go get the fake Lodge papers. This will give him the opportunity to tell the Lodge leaders how things are going. He will then go back to Edwards. While the man is reading the papers, McMurdo will jump on him and call out to the others so they can rush in. Once they have Edwards under control, the leaders can interrogate him to see what information he has already passed on to his employers. McGinty approves the plan and thanks McMurdo.

McMurdo returns home to make preparations. He advises Scanlan to spend the night elsewhere. McGinty and the others arrive in good time as planned. They wait drinking whiskey seated at the long table in the sitting room. When three knocks are heard, McMurdo goes to answer the door. The leaders hear the door open and greetings being exchanged. Then they hear the locking of the door followed by footsteps going into the parlor. There is a mutter of conversation for some time before McMurdo comes back into the sitting room. McGinty asks "Is Birdy Edwards here?" and McMurdo answers "Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!"[5]

Rifle barrels break through the sitting room windows and the curtains are torn down. McGinty charges the door and is met by Captain Marvin and his revolver. Edwards informs the Lodge leaders that the house is surrounded by forty armed men. The Scowrers are quickly disarmed. Sixty more Lodge members are arrested the same night.

Edwards and Ettie leave together in the early morning. They are joined by Ettie's father and are married ten days later in Chicago. The Scowrers are tried and convicted. McGinty and eight others are executed. More than fifty others, including Ted Baldwin, are imprisoned for ten years. After they are freed, Baldwin and others make multiple attempts on Edwards' life, eventually chasing him out of America to England and leading to the tragedy in Birlstone.


John Douglas is tried and acquitted as having acted in self-defense. Holmes advises Mrs. Douglas to take her husband out of England. Two months later, Holmes receives an unsigned note which reads "Dear me, Mr. Holmes. Dear me!" He is greatly disturbed by it.

Late at night, Holmes and Watson are visited by Cecil Barker. Barker has received a cable from Mrs. Douglas who had left for South Africa with her husband three weeks ago. The cable reads "Jack has been lost overboard in gale off St. Helena. No one knows how accident occurred." Holmes is certain it was the work of Moriarty. He believes the Americans went into partnership with Moriarty in order to carry out their vengeance. Barker is furious that they cannot do anything about the master criminal. Holmes assures him Moriarty can be beaten. Then he says, with his eyes staring into the future, "But you must give me time – you must give me time!"


Arthur Wontner The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Wontner as Holmes in a screenshot from The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes.

The Valley of Fear was adapted as a silent film in 1916 starring H.A. Saintsbury as Sherlock Holmes and Arthur M. Cullin as Dr. Watson. The film is now considered lost. The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, a 1935 British film with Arthur Wontner as Holmes and Ian Fleming as Watson, is an adaptation of The Valley of Fear. The 1983 Australian animated film Sherlock Holmes and the Valley of Fear is a faithful adaptation of the novel. The part of Holmes is voiced by Peter O'Toole.

"The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun", an episode of the French-American TV series Sherlock Holmes starring Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Watson, is based on The Valley of Fear. The episode was first broadcast in the United States in syndication on November 1, 1954. The second episode of the animated TV series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century entitled "The Crime Machine" is credited as having been inspired by The Valley of Fear. The episode, which first aired on September 25, 1999, in the United Kingdom, bears little resemblance to the story. "The Adventure of the Residence of Mr. Douglas", an episode of the Japanese TV series Sherlock Holmes Puppet Entertainment, which was first broadcast on NHK on February 1, 2015, is loosely based on The Valley of Fear.

The Valley of Fear was dramatized in two parts for the BBC radio Sherlock Holmes series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Dr. Watson. The two parts were reversed for the adaptation so that the "The Scowrers" episode precedes "The Tragedy of Birlstone". The episodes first aired on BBC Radio 4 on March 23 and March 30, 1997.

See also


  1. Coal miners working under dangerous conditions and earning low wages in Pennsylvania played an important role in the labor movement in the early 1870s. Irish miners belonging to the Molly Maguires allegedly attacked and killed mine owners and managers. At the time, the society was viewed as a terrorist organization. It is unclear how much of the reputation was influenced by the anti-unionization efforts of large mining corporations and railroad companies.
  2. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' greatest adversary, is introduced in the short story "The Final Problem".
  3. Charles I and the English Civil War also play a part in another Sherlock Holmes short story, "The Musgrave Ritual".
  4. The dating of The Valley of Fear is problematic. At the end of Part I, Dr. Watson indicates that the events described in Part II occurred twenty years before the events of Part I. Since Part II opens in the year 1875, it places the Birlstone murder in the year 1895. This conflicts with the timeline involving Professor Moriarty established in "The Final Problem" (which takes place in 1891). Sherlockian chronologists generally place The Valley of Fear in or around the year 1888.
  5. The character of Birdy Edwards is based on the Pinkerton agent James McParland who infiltrated and brought down the Molly Maquires. McParland's exploits were fictionalized by Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the detective agency, in his 1877 book The Mollie Maguires and the Detectives.

External links