Here's what I'll say about The Boscombe Valley Mystery:
Some Holmesian stories...capture your imagination with their mystery and make you think of them for the next one week.
Others...shock you at the end and make you think about how strange life can be for a few days.
Yet others...make you feel, "I love Sherlock Holmes - his deductions are breath taking!"
The Boscombe Valley Mystery is of the third type. It's not got a rivetting mystery or impossible twists - but yes it has got Sherlock Holmes and his 'can't go wrong' deductions!
What is the story here? I'll give you the teasers after my ratings (if you haven't already read it, that is).
There's this man James McCarthy who has been accused of murdering his father.
In fact, almost everyone - thinks the boy is the murderer. The only person who thinks he's innocent is a young woman called Alice Turner. It is Alice who wants Holmes to prove this man's innocence.
But then why was James McCarthy seen with his father just before the murder? Also, witnesses say he even fought with his father just before the murder. And James McCarthy himself agrees to all of this - but he also talks of weird details like rats and grey things moving in the distance!
AND - he says that the topic of the argument he had with his father is...a secret.
That's the scene of murder in the Boscombe Valley Mystery drawn by Joseph Friedrich.
The final question: Is this man really guilty or not? And what's with the 'secret argument' and ratty stuff in his testimony?
The water's very murky: it needs some Holmesian deduction treatment.
And Holmes doesn't disappoint as he clears it all up. ;-)
Even before Holmes has reached the scene of crime or questioned the criminal, he says:
"I shall approach this case from the point of view that what this young man says is true..."
I LOVED the deductions that made him form this impression.
The young man James McCarthy has been seen quarreling at the murder scene by many witnesses. James agrees to that but he says that the details of the quarrel between him and his father are a "secret".
Now Holmes looks at this testimony and thinks: "Would an actual murderer not want to invent some explanation to save himself? Why would he say it's a secret?"
Then this young man - James - talks about a rat and a moving greyish thing in his testimony. Again, reasons Holmes: Would a real murderer defend himself with such outrageous and meaningless explanations?
So that is a magical moment for me: when despite all the contrary evidence, Holmes decides to start with the "This guy is innocent" hypothesis. And all that he uses is clear logic and common sense.
One of the typical Holmes scenes in any story is: Holmes inspecting the scene of crime.
In this story, as Watson says: "He ran around like a dog who is picking up a scent..."
Holmes makes you more and more curious as he spots tiptoes, three separate tracks, a cigarette stub, a jagged stone and what not - at the scene of crime.
And then finally, out he comes from his "don't disturb me" zone as he announces:
"(the murderer)... Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-soled shooting-boots and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket."
Quite a magical moment for me!
One of the mysteries in the story - right from the start is...the rat. When Senior McCarthy was about to die, he apparently spoke of a rat - that's what his son James McCarthy says.
A rat is what a dying man thought of?
Holmes clears the air in style when he tells Watson (after poring through a map of Australia)...
He places his hand on one half of a word in the map and asks Watson to read. That word is ARAT.
Then, he removes his hand - to uncover - BALLARAT - a region in Australia. That moment is definitely a magical one for me. The murdered Australian man was referring to a man from Ballarat! Clever thinking, eh?
Here's Ballarat on a map of Australia by the way.
Thanks to Wikipedia Commons for a part of this picture!
Now when I read the story, I learnt about this 'Cooee' call that both the senior McCarthy and James McCarthy shared.
Out popped a question: was this call just about these two guys - or was it a very common call in Australia?
My research showed that 'Cooee' was actually quite popular in Australia. This is a sound that people in Australia have used to find missing people, to signify that they are Australian, as a greeting in the past and even to celebrate high spirits.
These days, 'Cooee' is not used for all these purposes - but some 'Cooee' competitions have sprung up! How does the 'Cooee' call sound?
Here's a guy from a 'Cooee' competition making a 'Cooee' call!
Now, in this story, senior McCarthy and John Turner apparently became rich in the Australian Gold Rush.
What is this Australian Gold Rush? Well, that's what I tried to find out.
From 1851 to around 1906, people found loads and loads of gold in different parts of Australia. There was just so much gold to be found that people came there to mine gold - from all over the world.
Here's a map that shows most of the places where gold was discovered:
Thanks to this cool site on Australian gold for helping me learn about the Gold Rush!
The largest gold specimen discovered in this gold rush was the Holtermann's Nugget in 1872. They say it weighed 286 kg! (That's quite some gold, isn't it?)
With so much gold there for the taking, obviously, a lot of men from across the world became rich in Australia. Some went back and some stayed on...
The words Assizes is mentioned 5 times in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.
The Assizes is apparently an approaching event where our guy - the accused - James McCarthy will be presented...
What does Assizes mean?
In the olden days, not-so-important cases used be tried in courts called Magistrates' courts. Really important and serious cases were referred to a special panel of judges called Justices of Assize who were uber cool top-quality judges.
This dude - James McCarthy was accused of a serious crime - so his case was referred to the next Assizes - the next time that the top judges would come and hold a session.
There are so many places talked about in The Boscombe Valley Mystery...Where exactly are they?
Now, there are things about Sherlock Holmes that I love.
But - sometimes, he does things I am not exactly happy about. But that's OK - I mean he's a different guy from me in the end ;-).
Well, in this case he takes law in his hands and takes no action against John Turner - the murderer - because, he is a dying man.
Now Sherlock Holmes is being compassionate here but the truth does not come to light because Holmes doesn't allow it to.
I'd have wished it to be otherwise - after all, a murderer is a murderer.
Here's a nice infographic that shows you some cases in which Holmes let the culprit go. I'm with Holmes in some cases but I don't see eye to eye with him in others...
Well, that's it about The Boscombe Valley Mystery for now.
Just in case you haven't yet read the story, here are the links...