The Boscombe Valley Mystery

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the fourth of the twelve stories in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". It was first published in the "Strand Magazine" in 1891.


Set in 1888, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called down to Boscombe Valley (a fictitious place in Herefordshire) to investigate the death of Mr. Charles McCarthy. Lestrade, a detective from Scotland Yard whose meagre abilities are often upstaged by Holmes's brilliant deductions, has concluded without much ado that it is a murder, and that McCarthy's son James is the killer. James was seen by one witness following his father to the nearby pond, and another, a young girl, saw the two remonstrating with each other by the pond.

Holmes will not accept Lestrade's conclusions, however, as there are some facts that simply do not seem to fit. Whom was McCarthy going to the pond to meet? He had told his serving-man that he had to keep an appointment there, from which he never came back alive. How could the meeting have been with James when McCarthy believed that his son was in Bristol? Why did McCarthy use the call "Cooee!", which his son is used to using? Why did he get angry with James? Why won't James reveal the exact nature of the conversation when his silence might well put his neck in a noose? How did a piece of clothing a few yards from James and his dying father vanish without a trace while James was right there? What did McCarthy's dying words about "a rat" mean? Who could have wanted McCarthy dead, if not James, and why? Is Miss Turner, who wants to marry James, somehow tied into all this?

Holmes employs his usual keen powers to unravel this tangle of questions, and once again, he puts Lestrade to shame. Young James is left in gaol by the time the story ends, and may not even be spared a referral to the next assizes, but Sherlock Holmes has arranged for Her Majesty's case against the young man to fall apart if it seems likely that a court will send him to the gallows. This arrangement comes with the true killer's compliments.

Literary Conceits

While Holmes and Watson often reassure their clients of their discretion regarding sensitive information uncovered in the course of a case, this is often at odds with the literary device employed in the majority of the stories, that the stories we read are Watson's actual published accounts of Holmes' cases. This is evident in stories such as A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, in which very compromising information is being referenced and published.

This story is a more glaring example of Watson's indiscretion in the publishing of cases, as he and Holmes not only promise to keep the secret of Mr. Turner's past, Watson explicitly state that James and Miss Turner marry never knowing their own family secrets, which of course they would as soon as they read the story.


The events of this story were recently adapted into a promenade-style play for the 2007 Edinburgh Festival, now under the name of "Murder in the Gardens". In this version of the story, although most of the names and histories of the characters remain unaltered, the events of the mystery are relocated to Edinburgh, with the murder of McCarthy taking place in Princes Street Gardens and Holmes and Watson being called in while attending lectures on police methods in Edinburgh University. As well as this, the killer is, in the end, revealed to be Jane Turner's mother rather than her father, her father having died long before the events of the play, with James McCarthy cleared of the crime after Watson's diagnosis of the body confirms that it would have been impossible for the son to kill his father due to the angle and location of the wound on the back of the head.

External links

* [ The Boscombe Valley Mystery with the illustrations of Sidney Paget in colour.]

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