The Valley of Fear Summary

Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear

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The Valley of Fear Summary

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The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle is one of many stories about Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. At the beginning of this novel, Holmes gets a message from one of Professor Moriarty’s agents—Fred Porlock. From time to time, Porlock sends Sherlock inside information about Moriarty’s endeavors. Despite the fact that the law sees Moriarty as innocent, Sherlock firmly believes him to be the puppet master of a criminal underworld. Sherlock enlists the help of his friend and sidekick, Dr. Watson, to decode Porlock’s message; from it, they learn that the life of John Douglas, who resides at Birlstone, is in danger.

Soon after, Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard informs Sherlock and Watson that Mr. Douglas of Birlstone Manor was found murdered. Sherlock expresses his suspicions that Moriarty was behind Douglas’s murder, but MacDonald doesn’t agree and reminds Sherlock that Professor Moriarty is both respected and educated. Holmes responds that Moriarty owns a painting worth more than forty-thousand pounds, which is suspicious, despite his seven-hundred-pound annual salary. MacDonald agrees this is strange. He accompanies Sherlock and Watson to Birlstone. Douglas was shot in the head at close range near midnight. The manor house is surrounded by a moat and drawbridge, and a regular guest of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas—Cecil Barker—was staying Birlstone on the night of the murder. A sawed-off shotgun was discovered at the crime scene.

Barker claims he was upstairs when he heard the gunshot. He says he rushed downstairs and saw the drawbridge was up, and lowered it so help could come. Blood on the window sill suggests someone climbed through the window; Cecil maintains the intruder must have waded through the moat, but can’t explain how said intruder got into the house in the first place. Next to the body, there’s a card with “V.V.” written on it. Douglas has a brand on his arm, but it’s not new, and his wedding ring was taken. Holmes observes that Douglas had only one dumbbell, which he thinks is strange.

Through interviews with others in the house, Sherlock learns that Cecil found the body and rang the bell, summoning Mrs. Douglas and the servants. Cecil urged Mrs. Douglas to return to her room, and she readily agreed. Sherlock tells Watson he thinks her agreeing to leave her husband’s body was odd. Cecil reveals that a secret society might have been pursuing Douglas. Sherlock learns Douglas had been married before, but his first wife died from Typhoid, and that he had married his second wife five years earlier. Douglas met Cecil in America, before suddenly leaving for Europe. Cecil and Mrs. Douglas knew that he faced some danger resulting from his time in America, and Mrs. Douglas reveals her husband once mentioned “The Valley of Fear.”

Sherlock discovers from Cecil’s slippers that he marked the windowsill with blood. He tells Watson that both Cecil and Mrs. Douglas are lying, but he’s not sure why. He also thinks the housekeeper heard the murder take place because she said she heard a door slamming a half hour before Cecil raised the alarm, and a shotgun, fired at close range, is muffled. It is revealed that the murder weapon is American-made; additionally, an American was seen riding a bicycle around the village. Holmes tells MacDonald to inform Cecil that the moat will be searched the next day; then he, MacDonald, and Watson hide and watch Cecil fish something out of the water that night. They catch Cecil and find that he’s fished out a bundle of clothes—worn by the cycling American—weighed down with a dumbbell. At this point, Mr. Douglas appears, alive, and gives Watson a written account of The Valley of Fear. He explains that he saw Ted Baldwin, an enemy, and expected an attack. The next day, he was attacked in his study; his attacker tried to shoot him. They fought for the gun and Baldwin was shot in the face. Cecil and Mr. Douglas disguised Baldwin as Mr. Douglas, throwing Baldwin’s clothes in the moat and putting Mr. Douglas’s rings on Baldwin—all save his wedding ring, which he could not remove. Baldwin had intended to leave the card that read “V.V.” on Mr. Douglas’s body. V.V. stands for Vermissa Valley. They both belonged to a secret society, hence the brand on the dead man’s arm. Since Baldwin’s death, both Cecil and Mrs. Douglas have covered for Mr. Douglas, who hid in the house.

The account Mr. Douglas gave Watson explains why he was hunted. His real name is Birdy Edwards, and he was once a detective for Pinkerton’s in Chicago. He’d infiltrated and destroyed a gang in Vermissa Valley, known as The Valley of Fear. Since then, he was a hunted man. Sherlock warns Mr. Douglas to leave England because a new threat, worse than the gang from Vermissa Valley, was after him. Mr. Douglas agrees, but on the journey to Africa, he is lost overboard. Sherlock believes Moriarty was hired by V.V. to assasinate Mr. Douglas. He tells Watson and MacDonald that he intends to catch Moriarty, but that it will take time.

Moriarty only plays a major role in two of Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes—The Valley of Fear and The Adventure of the Final Problem, but he is often thought of today as Holmes’ arch-enemy, due to his prevalence in many adaptations since.