The Valley of Fear


Basic Information

Abbreviation: VALL (J. F. Christ, 1947)
Word length: 57,881 (C. E. Lauterbach, 1960)
First published: Strand Magazine, September 1914 through May 1915; Associated Sunday Magazines, September 20 through November 22, 1914. First book edition: George H. Doran Co., 1915. First British edition: Smith, Elder & Co., 1915.

Discussion Questions

Part I: The Tragedy of Birlstone

  • Why do you think Douglas didn’t bother to hide his brand?
  • Who acted the most suspicious about Douglas’ death and why?
  • Why is the murder weapon questionable? How does it uncover some untruths in the sequence of events that the police and Holmes are given?
  • What was Mrs. Douglas’ intentions when she asked Watson if Holmes had an obligation to tell the police everything he knew? What was she trying to find out?
  • Why did Holmes spend time alone in the study? What did he accomplish when doing this?
  • Why does Holmes advise the police to halt their investigation?
  • How is the singular dumbbell the key to solving this case?
  • What is the real reason that Mrs. Douglas and Barker were seemingly unbothered by the death of Mr. Douglas when Watson saw them a few hours later?
  • Why and how was the scene of the crime staged? Who was the real murder victim?

Part II: The Scowrers

  • Why is McMurdo so rude to the police when they speak to him on the train?
  • Who are the Scowrers? What sort of reputation do they have and why?
  • What is the role of a bodymaster?
  • Why do you think McMurdo doesn’t consider what the Freemen do “crime” when speaking to Morris?
  • Why does Morris feel trapped in his role as a Freeman?
  • What is McMurdo’s true identity, and how does he reveal himself? Were there any hints that may have given him away?
  • What happens at the end of the story?
  • How do these two parts of the book tie together? What role does each part play in the other?