The Valley of Fear was the final novel in the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story originally appeared over several issues of the monthly Strand Magazine in late 1914 before being published as a standalone novel. While Doyle would continue to publish Sherlock Holmes short stories until 1927, The Valley of Fear remains Holmes’ final novel appearance.
In the first half of the novel, Holmes and his assistant Watson are called to assist with an investigation into the murder of John Douglas, a man apparently shot in his own home at point-blank range with a shotgun. The blast leaves little trace of a skull with which to identify him. As evidence is examined and witnesses within the house are questioned, Holmes uncovers holes in testimonies and a connection to a secret society that no one wishes to discuss.
The second half of the novel elucidates the back-story of the apparent murder victim, Douglas. Years prior, Douglas had been in Chicago, on the run from the law. Wandering under the name John McMurdo, Douglas identifies himself to the local chapter of the Eminent Order of Freemen as a member from another region. The group is known by the locals as “the Scowrers,” who terrorize and extort the townspeople like a mafia under the ruthless Councilor McGinty. McMurdo, no stranger to violence, joins the employ of the Scowrers and participates in an assault on a local newspaper editor. While McMurdo tries to elevate his status within the local order, other members begin to wonder if the group’s actions are getting too brazenly violent, lest they force the intervention of government officials beyond the reach of their bribery. Douglas’ character draws inspiration from the real-life story of James McParland, an American private detective and Pinkerton agent.
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