Sherlockian.Net: The View Halloa

by Rosemary Michaud (

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

[Ballarat poster] What a sweet beginning this story has! Holmes sends for his old pal Watson to accompany him on a case, and Mary Watson, far from nagging her husband about his penchant for dashing off with his friend, actually urges Watson to go. Watson gives her a charming compliment in return by alluding to their romantic meeting in The Sign of Four. The affectionate circle is completed when Holmes gives Watson very gracious thanks for agreeing to come along on the trip. Then the conversation turns to the case at hand, and before long Holmes demolishes the heart-warming mood by launching into his critique of Watson's shaving habits. It's all business from then on, as Holmes pursues truth, justice -- and the chance to really get under the skin of Inspector Lestrade.

Lestrade refers the case: Why did Holmes behave so irritably towards Lestrade in this story? Had some other case occurred just prior to this one, and was there some bad blood left from it? Did the smiling and beautiful countryside bring out the worst in Holmes, or at least lead him to feel that he could behave with almost total disrespect towards the London-based police official? Or was Lestrade on the case as a private capacity, causing Holmes to feel that the Scotland Yarder was impinging on his unofficial consulting detective's territory?

And yet Holmes played fair, at least in his own contrary way. He described the murderer for Lestrade, and perhaps if Lestrade had demonstrated a proper interest, Holmes might have invited him back to the Hereford Arms for a talk with John Turner. However, given Holmes's subtle and accurate perceptions of human nature, were his hints to Lestrade a genuine effort at fair play, or was Holmes well aware that Lestrade would not pay any attention to him at this point, after all the guff he had given him on the case already?

The usual suspects: Reading the stories in their published order, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" is the first case in which Holmes willingly allowed the perpetrator go unpunished. Did Boscombe Valley take place soon after "A Case of Identity?" Did Holmes feel additionally inclined to let John Turner go free because he was still frustrated over not being able to punish Windibank?

Were there other motives for Holmes's leniency? Was he sympathetic because Turner was a dying man? Did Holmes care about Alice Turner's happiness? Did he feel that Turner had atoned for his crimes by his life of misery in the clutches of a blackmailer? Did Holmes feel that the killing of a blackmailer was justifiable homicide? Did Holmes, the descendent of country squires, appreciate the damage that would be done to the surrounding countryside and villages if a powerful landowner's estate were thrown into disarray by a murder trial?

Or did Holmes think that John Turner was not guilty? Were there circumstances under which Turner might have lied to save young McCarthy, even if he knew the young man to be guilty? Was Turner protecting someone else? What about that mysterious "old woman, whose name is not mentioned," who saw McCarthy senior on his way to Boscombe Pool? Who was she? A friend of John Turner's, or something more? Was she Australian, thus explaining McCarthy's cry of "Cooee?" Was she Alice in disguise? Or was she merely the pesky "old woman be damned" from A Study in Scarlet!?

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