The Valley of Fear
First edition (US)
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesSherlock Holmes
PublisherGeorge H. Doran Company
Publication date
Preceded byThe Return of Sherlock Holmes 
Followed byHis Last Bow 
TextThe Valley of Fear at Wikisource

The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel by British writer Arthur Conan Doyle. It is loosely based on the Molly Maguires and Pinkerton agent James McParland.[1] The story was first published in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915. The first book edition was copyrighted in 1914, and it was first published by George H. Doran Company in New York on 27 February 1915, and illustrated by Arthur I. Keller.[2]


Sherlock Holmes receives a cipher message from Fred Porlock, a pseudonymous agent of Professor Moriarty. Holmes deciphers the message as a warning of a nefarious plot against one Douglas, a country gentleman residing at Birlstone House. Some minutes later, Inspector MacDonald arrives at 221B Baker Street with news that Douglas was murdered the night before. The three men travel to Birlstone House to investigate.

Holmes studies the window sill as MacDonald, White Mason, and Watson observe (Strand, 1914)

After interviewing Cecil Barker, a frequent guest at Birlstone House, and the man who discovered the body, they agree that suicide is out of the question and that someone from outside the house committed the murder. Barker explains that Douglas married after arriving in England five years earlier. Barker believes a secret society of men pursued Douglas, and that he retreated to rural England out of fear for his life. Mrs. Douglas said her husband mentioned something called "The Valley of Fear". Holmes learns that the housekeeper heard a sound, as if of a door slamming, half an hour before the alarm; Holmes believes that this sound was the fatal shot.

Local detective White Mason and Inspector MacDonald track a bicycle found on the grounds of the house to an American staying at a guest house. The American appears to be the murderer, but there is no sign of him. Holmes asks MacDonald to write to Barker, telling him that the police intend to search the moat the next day. That night, they lie in wait outside Birlstone Manor and see Barker fish the clothes of the missing American out of the moat. Barker refuses to explain the situation. At that moment, Douglas appears, alive and well. He hands Watson a written account called "The Valley of Fear", which explains why he feared for his life.

Barker informs Holmes about Douglas's fate (Strand, 1915)

Douglas explains that he had spotted an enemy of his, Ted Baldwin, in the area and expected an attack. When Baldwin attempted to shoot Douglas in his study, Douglas grabbed the gun and, in the struggle, Baldwin was shot in the face. With Barker's help, Douglas dressed the man in his clothes to confuse his enemies. He then hid himself in the old priest hole at Birlstone.

The main narrative pauses to explain Douglas' past in America. Douglas' real name was Birdy Edwards and he had been a Pinkerton detective in Chicago. Working for the Pinkertons, Edwards had traveled to Vermissa Valley to infiltrate a corrupt coal miner's trade union, secretly a cover for a murderous gang. After Edwards brought the gang to justice, the criminals attempted to kill him. Hounded, Douglas ran to England, where he met and married his second wife.

Holmes urges Douglas to leave England. Douglas takes this advice, but, shortly after, Holmes learns from Barker that Douglas was lost overboard on the ship to Africa. Holmes believes Moriarty was responsible for ending Douglas' life and he swears to bring Moriarty down.

Publication history

The Valley of Fear was first serialised in The Strand Magazine from September 1914 to May 1915.[3] In the Strand, it was published with thirty-one illustrations by Frank Wiles. It was first published in book form by George H. Doran Company in New York on 27 February 1915, before the serialisation had finished in the Strand. The first British book edition was published by Smith, Elder & Co. on 3 June 1915. Like the first Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, The Valley of Fear has two parts. The first part is titled "The Tragedy of Birlstone", and the second is titled "The Scowrers".[4]

Structure and themes

Doyle crafted The Valley of Fear as "two parts and a coda". The novel has a number of major themes, including "problems of ethical ambiguity", and attempts to comment seriously on terrorist activity as profiled by American union struggles. Critics have shown how the American union struggles deal with similar issues in the contemporary political situation in Ireland.[5]



Several films have adapted the book, among them:



The Valley of Fear was the only Sherlock Holmes story not adapted for the 1930s radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and was not adapted for radio until 1960.[8] Radio adaptations of the story include:


See also


  1. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume III (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006). p. 631. ISBN 978-0393058000
  2. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan (October 1979). John Murray (ed.). The Sherlock Holmes Omnibus (2nd Illustrated ed.). ISBN 978-0719536915.
  3. ^ Smith, Daniel (2014) [2009]. The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide (Updated ed.). Aurum Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-78131-404-3.
  4. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes. Running Press. pp. 101, 107. ISBN 978-0762444083.
  5. ^ Lauterbach, Edward S. (1 January 1994). "The Oxford Sherlock Holmes: A Review Essay". English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920. 37 (4): 502–508. ISSN 1559-2715.
  6. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 130. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  7. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 133. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  8. ^ Dickerson, Ian (2019). Sherlock Holmes and His Adventures on American Radio. BearManor Media. p. 49. ISBN 978-1629335087.
  9. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 388. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  10. ^ "Murder for Christmas: The Valley of Fear". BBC Genome: Radio Times. BBC. 2020. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  11. ^ Bert Coules. "The Valley of Fear". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  12. ^ "58A. The Valley of Fear, Part One". Imagination Theatre. 2020. Retrieved 19 June 2020. (Roles specified in the end credits.)
  13. ^ "Oxford Playscripts: The Valley of Fear". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  14. ^ Adrian Flynn adaptation of The Valley of Fear. Oxford University Press. 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-832085-2.
  15. ^ "The Valley of Fear". Blackeyed Theatre. 2022.
  16. ^ "Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear review – an elegant last adventure". Guardian. 2022.

Further reading