Short summary - The Valley of Fear - Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle

British literature summaries - 2020

Short summary - The Valley of Fear
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle


A detective infiltrates the Order of Masons, which is known as the Order of the Killers. The order is destroyed, but after many years, those who escaped judgment find it and try to kill it.

Part one. Birlstone Tragedy

Sherlock Holmes receives an encrypted letter from a certain Porlock associated with Professor Moriarty, the organizer of many crimes. In the letter, composed of numbers, only two words are written: "Douglas" and "Beerstone." While the great detective decides the cipher, a message arrives from Porlock in which he asks to burn the previous letter, since it is already useless. At that moment, police inspector MacDonald appears with the news that Mr. Douglas was killed at Birlstone Manor. Holmes suggests that Professor Moriarty is involved. Having taken his friend Watson, the great detective sets off for Birlstone.

The manor was built in the Middle Ages, and two ditches surrounded the house, one of which is always filled with water. In order to get into the house, a bridge was lowered. John Douglas is a wealthy man; he made his fortune from American gold mines. His first wife died, and Douglas married a second time to a woman who was twenty years younger than him. Sometimes Douglas’s friend Cessil Burker visits the house with him from America. The maids of the house consists of a butler and housekeeper.

It was Barker who discovered the corpse at night and brought a policeman and a doctor to the estate. The dead man was lying on his back, disfigured by a shot in the head. A rifle with sawn trunks rested on his chest. Seeing on the window a bloody footprint from a boot, Burker decided that the killer had escaped through the moat, since the bridge had already been raised. Mrs. Douglas he did not let into the room. But how did the killer get into the house? Most likely in the afternoon, across the bridge, and hid somewhere in the house. Near the corpse was found a card with the initials of D.V. and the number 341, and behind the curtains - dirty marks from boots. There was a stigma on the dead man’s right hand. The butler noticed that on the hands of the murdered man all his rings were worn, except for the engagement ring. Examining the rifle, Holmes concludes that the weapon is made in America. He finds no trace on the other side of the moat.

The great detective ponders the facts: if it was a murder, how could a criminal kill Douglas, remove the ring from his finger, trample in the corner, and escape through the window if Burker immediately ran into the room? And if suicide happened, then how to explain the traces on the window and in the corner? Given the sign on the hand and the card, Holmes concludes that some kind of secret society is involved in the case. Especially since Burker, talking about Douglas, is sure that his past is connected with some kind of secret. While the police inspector finds out what was the relationship between Mrs. Douglas and Barker, Holmes notices that, according to Barker, a candle was burning in the room when he entered, and according to the story of the butler who appeared immediately, the light was on. Mrs. Douglas said that her husband mentioned the Valley of Terror and a certain Mr. McGinty. Holmes notices that the footprint on the window belongs to Barker's shoe.

The great detective concludes that Burker and Mrs. Douglas deliberately lie. The wrong person was Douglas to voluntarily give the ring, and the candle burned very little. For a while, Douglas and the killer were talking, and then a shot occurred. Not far from the house was found a bicycle belonging to a certain Mr. Hargrave, most likely an American who arrived in the town from London and stayed in a hotel. According to the description, Hargrave is similar to Douglas. But Hargrave himself disappeared.

Holmes spends the night studying the old manor building. He offers the police to write a note to Burker informing of the draining of the moat. In the evening, hiding, they watch as someone pulls something out of a moat. Holmes catches Burke in the act. In the package is clothing made in the American Vermiss. Vermissa Valley is known as the Valley of Terror sending killers. Finding clothes, Holmes realized that it was not Mr. Douglas who was killed, but Hargrave, and Douglas himself was hiding in the house. Hargrave was a long-time enemy of Douglas in America. He arrived in England, found Douglas, and he shot him with a gun. Since Hargrave’s face was disfigured, he and Barker decided to extradite the murdered person as Douglas, dressed the corpse, put rings on him, but couldn’t put on the engagement ring.

Douglas writes down his story twenty years ago and hands the manuscript to Dr. Watson.

Part two. Cleaners

A young man of about thirty, John McMurdo, arrives in the small mining town of Vermissa from Chicago. He is going to find work there and is counting on the help of his fellow Freemasons.

John rents a room with Swede Shefter. He has a romantic relationship with Shefter's daughter, Etti, but his father warns that Etti has a fan, Tedd Baldwin, one of the Cleaners, an old Masonic order that is known as the Order of the Killers. Cleaners decide their fate, and the city is full of their victims. No one dares to sue them, as he does not hope to live to see the court in order to become a witness. John does not intend to give up, although Baldwin threatens him with reprisal. He decides to meet the head of the Cleaners, McGinty. Upon learning that John is actually a forger and a cold-blooded killer, McGinty accepts him among his friends and tells Baldwin that the girl should choose herself.

John leaves Shefter and settles separately. Hiding behind work, he prints out fake money and distributes it to members of the box. Having gone through a terrible test - branding with a red-hot iron - John becomes a full member of the box and learns about her affairs. Together with Baldwin, he is sent to a newspaperman who wrote an article about the Cleaners. McGinty orders not to kill him, but only to teach a lesson. John is arrested, but McGinty saves him. John is gaining popularity among the Cleaners, but now Shefter does not want to deal with him, and John meets Etti secretly.

One day, two guys from a lodge arrive in Vermissa with a mission. In front of John, they kill the director of a large mine. McGinty instructs John to blow up the policeman’s house with his wife and children. John is scouting the situation, preparing an explosion, but by a lucky chance at the last moment people move to live in another place. John does not abandon his plan, and the Cleaners continue to commit atrocities.

John finds out that detective Barry Edwards from private agency Nat Pinkerton is heading to Vermissa, and the box will be over. After negotiating the escape with Etti, John at the meeting announces the arrival of the detective. None of those present knew him by sight. John declares that he knows the detective, and undertakes to neutralize him. He believes that the detective is hiding under the guise of a journalist. John goes on reconnaissance in a neighboring town. Returning, he reports that the detective lived there for a long time, he had plenty of money, so that he could scout a lot. John invited the detective to his home to kill him along with McGinty.

Having ambushed John’s house, the Cleaners are waiting for the journalist. Finally he appears, it turns out to be John himself. The house is surrounded by police and McGinty is arrested. John infiltrated the box and, as he could, prevented crime.

Having finished the matter, he leaves Vermissa with Etti and her father. McGinty and his accomplices stood trial and were executed. But Ted Baldwin escaped execution and was looking for Edwards. Knowing this, Edwards changed his surname to Douglas and went to England. Etty died during this time.

After some time, news comes of the death of Douglas. Holmes suggests that this is the work of Professor Moriarty. The American turned to him for help, but he failed. Now the matter is completed. But the great detective will not sit back, he needs time to defeat Moriarty.