In which Holmes uncovers the truth beneath a simple murder.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery is the fourth short story collected within The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. First published in the Strand Magazine in 1891, it takes Holmes and Watson away from their familiar London streets out into the English countryside.
Called to investigate by Lestrade, Holmes learns that a man has been arrested for the murder of his father but protests his innocence. Eyewitnesses suggest the son is guilty, but the detective suspects an unknown third party’s involvement.
Like many Holmes short stories, The Boscombe Valley Mystery has been filmed many times since publication. It was one of eight in a series of silent films produced in 1912 and then in 1922 was included in a more ambitious set of 47 films starring Eille Norwood as Holmes – who to this day holds the record for most appearances as Holmes in film. Conan Doyle reportedly admired Norwood’s work, saying that “his wonderful impersonation of Holmes has amazed me.”
More recently, the story was again filmed in 1968 with Peter Cushing as Holmes and then as part of Grenada’s 1991 series starring Jeremy Brett.
Why has the story seemed to transfer to the screen so easily and so often? It’s perhaps, on the surface, one of the clearest examples of Holmes’ abilities. He’s called in to a seemingly cut-and-dry case – two men are seen talking alone and one ends up dead. Of course, Holmes turns this situation on its head and reveals a more intriguing answer to the puzzle.
As with the story itself, there’s more beneath the surface. Holmes is again shown to be fallible in some of his deductions, though his methods prove the son innocent it takes further work and confessions to find the deeper truth.
Conan Doyle had a wonderful talent for what you might call background stories. While the main narrative is a tightly wound mystery, there’s often a sprawling tale hidden behind the lies and crimes of the suspects. It’s this mix that makes The Boscombe Valley Mystery a highlight of Holmes’ first collection of stories.