I find it weird that The Boscombe Valley Mystery follows Shoscombe Old Place. I think the “…scombe” ending of the two places jars me. Still, I suppose that has no bearing on the quality of the story. In fact, I loved this story when I’d read it all those years ago. The thing that I found very strange indeed was the absence of the “coooeee” call which featured so prominently in my memory. I realize they still produced a serviceable reproduction of the story without it, but it seems like an odd choice to leave it out.
Anyhow, Watson is on holiday when Holmes finds him and asks for his company on a mission, summoned by a Ms. Alice Turner. Watson obliges although I truly suspect he does it solely so he can write about the events and let slip another felony on the part of his friend (although why he does this remains a mystery too. That’ll be the end of the series, I’m sure: the Mystery of the Backstabbing Best Friend. But let’s stay focused!)
William McCarthy is found dead at the water’s edge by his son. Suspicious falls very quickly to the son, James, who seems to have been the only one in the woods with his father. (Nature must be quite the dangerous place if we take Holmes at face value: “Watson, all this fresh air will kill me!” Then again, this isn’t the first time Holmes has made a disparaging comment about the nice English countryside.)
Holmes has reason to believe James is innocent. I think this is largely due to the fact that the inspector, Summerby, is convinced of his guilt. In fairness, James was heard to say he got his just desserts so it does seem close to a confession! But Holmes goes to town search the scene of the crime and detects a shoeprint that doesn’t correspond to the known players. He finds cigar ash and the butt of said cigar. James tells Holmes that his father’s last words had to do with a rat. The fact that his father was not expecting him is also indicative to Holmes. Holmes pieces it together and summons the father of Ms. Turner…
Many years ago, John Turner was a highwayman. He robbed some people of their gold, but let one live. The man was William McCarthy. When he chanced upon McCarthy again, McCarthy blackmailed him into allowing him to live on his land. Then he exerted power over Turner because he knew the man’s actual identity. He threatened to ruin him which would crush his daughter, the young woman in love with James McCarthy. William goes on to push James to marry Alice. This is the straw the breaks Turner’s proverbial back. Having just witnessed an argument between father and son, he picks up a rock and beats the evil McCarthy to death.
I really think I would have been well served to keep track of how many times Holmes allows the killer to escape. I do like that Holmes is a man of principle though even if he doesn’t always follow the law. He evaluates the aging mans declining health and decides to let him leave due to the nature of the crime.
Turner: “And what do you intend to do?”
Holmes: “In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you be alive or dead, shall be safe with us.”
I was just speaking with a friend recently about whether or not Holmes was spiritual, and I think there is some indication of it here with reference to a higher court than the local law. Turner dies before the end, and James is released from prison, and Holmes burns the signed confession that he had been holding as collateral. Also in this story, we hear homes speak of the “observation of trifles”; a favorite subject of his.
The only thing that took me out of the episode was a comment by Alice that she and James love each other as a brother and sister, only to have them decide to get married at the end. This is perhaps a different view than I have of brother/sister love. I’ll just have to accept that different times and cultures lead to different places and move on!
“Oh look! A pheasant!” Leslie Schofield plays the evil McCarthy and it took me a few minutes to recognize him as Calib from Doctor Who’s Face of Evil. Well, I say it took me a few minutes; the truth is I went to IMDB and the split second I saw the picture they used for him, I had the lightbulb moment. (I did take a moment to confirm it though!)
Overall, I love a happy ending and this story has one. There are a few unexpected turns along the way with some discoveries about James, but at the end of the day, that’s all backstory. James and Alice decide to get married and we have a blissful scene of them embracing at the end. We get a solid entry into the latter half of the series with a story I thoroughly enjoyed in written form many years ago. ML