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The Valley of Fear (The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library) Paperback – January 1, 2005
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The standards of scholarship and production [of the series]...have never faltered. A wonderful project, excellently carried out. Highest recommendation. --Roger Johnson, The District Messenger, 26 June 2005
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In Chapter 1 Sherlock Holmes receives a coded message from an informant and deciphers is without the cipher key. Inspector Alec MacDonald of Scotland Yard arrives to say that Mr. Douglas was horribly murdered last night, verifying that message. Holmes draws MacDonald's attention to a painting, and what it reveals. They will go to Birlstone to investigate the murder. Watson describes the location of Birlstone Manor House, which is surrounded by a moat forty feet in breadth. The drawbridge was raised in the evening, isolating the house. John Douglas and his wife were strangers but were popular in the village. Douglas was an excellent tenor, they said he found gold in California. He was democratic in manner and indifferent to danger. Douglas had one close friend, Cecil James Barker, who knew him in America. The servants were not involved. The victim had his face blown to pieces by a sawed-off shotgun, a weapon that came from America. A card beside the body said "V.V. - 341". There is a strange brand on the forearm to identify Douglas. His wedding ring was missing!
The story tells of the investigation by the police and Sherlock Holmes. Is there a clue missing? The people and servants are interviewed to get their statements (Chapter 5). [Did you catch the clues?] Holmes knows some people are lying, can he reconstruct the truth (Chapter 6)? In Chapter 7 Holmes arrives at the solution and the proof. We learn what did happen. Part 2 has the story about John Douglas and the enemies who want him dead. This story is a lesson about drawing the right conclusion from circumstantial evidence so all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Part 2 is a fictionalized account of the labor wars that occurred in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania in the mid 1870s. The laborers had gone on a long strike for better conditions, it was lost by the miners. There had been violence during the strike. Afterwards the mine owners sought to ruthlessly oppress the coal miners by the use of secret agents. One infiltrated the miner’s secret society and reported their doings. Some believe there were others who provoked violence and the revenge that followed. This secret society was called the "Mollie Maguires" (this name was never used by the miners themselves). About two dozen were hanged for their murders. In 1979 Pennsylvania declared a full pardon for Jack Kehoe, "the King of the Mollies", who was sentenced to death after a farce of a trial. The president of the Reading Railroad was the Prosecutor! Government was used as a tool of business. 1876 saw the worst depression known at that time. Another depression saw that Reading Railroad president voted out of office and later die a suicide, not a victim of murder. A good history book will educate you about this dramatic history.
Note how this story mirrors "A Study in Scarlet". Part 2 provides a historical background for the mystery in Part 1, which is about the identity of a secret agent, not a murderer. The real history of the Anthracite Wars in northeast Pennsylvania is even more interesting (reference the "Molly Maguires").