- Paperback: 193 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Reprint edition (13 Oct. 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596916443
- ISBN-13: 978-1596916449
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.3 x 19.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,572,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles Paperback – 13 Oct 2009
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A reinvestigation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" poses an alternative solution to the case that is based on hidden clues within the story's text, in a fan's recreation that illuminates unusual interstices between Doyle's fiction and the real world. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The French literary critic, Pierre Bayard, claims that the real murderer - and in fact the real murder - in the 'Hound of the Baskervilles' has for decades gone unnoticed. The former is not Stapleton and the latter not Sir Charles Baskerville or Selden, Bayard contends. He indulges in a highly ingenious, but rather fanciful analysis of what is really going on in this famous story. He claims to have invented a new form of literary criticism, which he calls 'detective criticism', in which the critic acts as a kind of detective to uncover the TRUE murderers in works of crime fiction, since (according to Bayard) even the author of a crime novel can be deceived by his largely autonomous creations. It's a fascinating concept and provides much intellectual entertainment. But at the end of the day, I felt that he strays much too far into the terrain of the fanciful and tries to explain away (sometimes rather weakly) evidence that would contradict his peculiar theory regarding 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. It's a bit like Freudian psycho-analysis, which can make of a dream, etc., anything the analyst almost arbitrarily chooses it to mean (interestingly, Bayard seems to be a fan of Freud). Nevertheless, this is intellectual creativity of a high order, and I recommend it unreservedly - especially as the text finds a very accomplished reader in the person of its narrator, John Lee.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Bayard doesn't seem to have read one word about The Hound of the Baskervilles outside of the "fact" that Conan Doyle wrote it under protest. He seems to be completely unaware that many previous critics and scholars have worked on these same materials before. Most telling, you would think, Bayard seems unaware that Conan Doyle worked on the plot of this book with another man, the illfated Bertran Fletcher Robinson, so if Holmes acts oddly at any time in THOTB, it might just as easily be Fletcher Robinson's hatred of him we are glimpsing...
I really love what Bayard did with THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD and the solution he pulled out of that text was new to me, surprising, and satisfying. Here I'm just meh about his brilliance being put to such use. If I were writing a psychoanalytic handbook on the author, i would seek to find out why, after generations have believed that two fictional male characters committed famous crimes, Bayard now seeks to pin these celebrated murders on previously unsuspected--women?
He says he has also solved the mystery of Hamlet--but that volume has not been translated into English yet. want to bet Ophelia did it?
Detective criticism is Bayard's unique approach; he tried it previously with Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?: The Mystery Behind the Agatha Christie Mystery, which appears to have received a lukewarm reception. So instead of Stapleton's dog, we are presented with an alternate murderer. All well and good in the main, but when you realize that Bayard bases his insight on a loose French translation of Conan Doyle's original, most of whatever power his punch may have had is lost. For example, the translator's note on page 144, following Bayard's analogy of Holmes to the Hound, cautions us that, "Bayard is working from a French translation" which renders Conan Doyle's original text of "his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight" to the much narrower "his eyes gleamed like a wolf's." (!!)
Bayard registers some good observations, such as questioning why Holmes takes Dr. Mortimer's account at face value ("If Mortimer, for whatever reason, has given an inexact version--for instance by mistaking the prints of some other animal for a dog's--then the detective's whole solution collapses.") or wondering how the dog could perceive Sir Charles' state of vitality so quickly and from such a distance ("How can we think that in such a brief time Sir Charles Baskerville could suffer a heart attack and die, leaving the dog time to make a precise enough diagnosis to decide, in the interest of its dietary preferences, to cease its efforts before reaching the body?"). He also takes a well-placed stab at playing The Game, asserting that the Hound only attacked Sir Henry after Holmes and Watson shoot at it ("Can we reproach a dog hit by a bullet for being overcome with rage and rushing at one of the people it legitimately supposes to be its assailants?"). These however are hardly ample reward for having to slog through the rest of the book.
Bayard is pretentious, verbose, and, not insignificantly, unkind to both Holmes and Conan Doyle. He also repeats ("It is said...") the apocryphal black armband story which to my knowledge has never been substantiated by primary sources.
Anyone new to the HOUND story would do best to start with the original in its well and creepy goodness: on its own (The Hound of the Baskervilles: 150th Anniversary Edition (Signet Classics)) or as part of the handy albeit heavy collection (The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories). Longtime fans have plenty of options, chief among them the third volume of Les Klinger's The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear).
In brief chapters, Bayard recounts the well-known plot, describes Holmes's methods of inquiry (along the way noting a number of mistakes committed by the master throughout the canon, both acknowledged by Holmes or Watson and not), presents his own method of "detective criticism" ("The aim ... is to become more rigorous than even the detectives in literature and the writers who create them, and thus to work out solutions that are more satisfying to the soul"), and then delineates all the problems with the received text and solution.
Among the problems Bayard highlights are: Why did the hound leave no marks on the first corpse, that of Sir Charles Baskerville? When Selden, the convict, dies wearing the clothes of Sir Henry Baskerville, the hound is never actually seen, so why assume that it was responsible? It does attack Sir Henry near the end, but only after a shot has wounded it first.
Bayard also notes that, after fastening on Stapleton as his suspect, reading all the clues as pointing in his direction, and then driving the man out onto the moor to his certain death, Holmes waves away the issue of motive! Watson asks him, "If Stapleton came into the succession, how could he explain the fact that he, the heir, had been living unannounced under another name so close to the property? How could he claim it without causing suspicion and inquiry?"
In case you're wondering, Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong is probably a satire -- an ostensibly earnest yet loving one. Bayard has created his own minor subgenre, which he calls "detective criticism" and describes in this slim volume, although only one other example has been translated into English: a critique of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, called Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? Most regrettable, his 2002 Enquête sur Hamlet, in which he apparently proves that Claudius did not kill Hamlet's father, remains untranslated. Of more than a dozen works published by Bayard in French, the only other to have been translated thus far is the even more sly and cerebral How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read, which was a minor U.S. bestseller last year.
Though Bayard occasionally gallops into the high alpine meadows of literary and psychoanalytic theory, he still sticks closely to the text he's given. And though he probably doesn't believe half of what he's saying, it does pass the logical plausibility test. It has an inner consistency, and that makes it worth doing -- as a challenge, as a joke, and (dare one say it?) as a work of art.
The chapters, as well as the book as a whole, are short. Bayard engages in a bit of psychological and academic gibble-gabble, but never for long. If you know and love the Holmes canon well, you'll probably enjoy it. If you don't, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
Spoiler Alert: The remainder of this review is meant for those who have already read the book.
Professor Bayard comes dangerously close to making a truly brilliant, though ultimately flawed argument: The Hound of the Baskervilles was Sir Conan Doyle's revenge upon not only Holmes, whom he had grown to despise, but also upon the legions of Holmes fans who would not let the detective stay dead. How could this joke have been exacted? By having Holmes finger an innocent man in a manner most convincing to all who adore him - yet with clues as to the real culprit available for posterity to mull over and, ultimately pass judgment upon Holmes and his legions of gullible fans. Let's face it, that would be a cool theory, and kinda hilarious, if true.
However, Professor Bayard would much rather flirt with mysticism in the form of the alleged "autonomy of fictional characters," their possible sojourns into our world, and Freudian psychoanalysis, than advance a more plausible explanation as to why Holmes was so fabulously duped.
The Professor's applied methodology is this: poke some holes in Sherlock Holmes' theory regarding the particulars of the crimes, then assert that those holes are big enough to make room for his own theory. He begins this process by arguing quite unconvincingly that the death of Sir Charles could well have been an complete accident: Stapleton's very large dog simply got away from him and chased after a frightened Sir Charles but was called away from the man before the dog could cause visible harm to his person (beyond the unintentionally induced heart attack). Or indeed, before it could leave footprints closer than 20 yards from where Sir Charles collapsed and died.
But in order for this incident to have been an accident, the Professor has to have Stapleton attend a meeting with Sir Charles, at the secluded location and irregular hour that Stapleton himself knew about ahead of time, while bringing his large and fearsome looking dog. An innocent Stapleton wants to have a cordial meeting with Sir Charles, in the hopes of enlisting his financial aid for Ms. Laura Lyons. Stapleton, knowing of the legend of the hound of the Baskervilles, and likely also Sir Charles' growing unhealthy obsession with that legend, would not have brought that dog anywhere near that meeting. Furthermore, on Professor Bayard's theory, the dog is both unruly to a fault (it had to have leapt the gate at some point in its misbehavior), with lethal effect on Sir Charles, yet obedient enough to promptly break off its chase on the audible command of Stapleton (either verbal or by dog whistle).
And as for the death of Seldon, Bayard notes correctly that no one saw the dog on that occasion. This fact, according to him, further weakens Holmes' ultimate conclusion. However, there are some details here that are not adequately addressed by the Professor's theory, details which more than adequately accumulate into solid proof that Holmes was right. Firstly, both Holmes and Watson both hear noises which strongly suggest that a large hound was in the vicinity of Seldon at the time he fell to his death. Secondly, given how fleet afoot he proved to be a few nights before this when he easily outran both Watson and Sir Henry, Seldon's accident speaks very loudly of a flight in terror from something more menacing than two human assailants. Also of note is Stapleton's presence at the scene of the accident very soon after it occurred. That he was out at that hour and at that area of the moor is quite suspicious. Then there is the fact that the person most spooked by the unseen hound just happened to be the person wearing clothing once owned by Sir Henry, the hound's presumed intended victim. Finally, and this is not remarked upon by Professor Bayard, Sir Henry only avoided being the second person on the moor that night who smelled like Sir Henry, because he ignored Stapleton's note inviting him to attend Stapleton's house for dinner -- an invitation which, incidentally, would have taken him across the moor at about the time Seldon met his end.
Now Professor Bayard does succeed in pointing out some serious - though non-fatal -- weaknesses in Holmes' final theory, including, but not limited to Holmes' rather silly explanation as to why the hound did not actually maul Sir Charles: hounds don't bite corpses! Though, as the Professor properly notes, the hound had no way of knowing just how far gone Sir Charles was from cardiac arrest, between the time Sir Charles stopped running, and the second or two at the most it would have taken the beast to arrive where Sir Charles lay. But of course if an innocent and horrified Stapleton could call off the hound before it reached Sir Charles, so could Stapleton the murderer, and with good reason for doing so: to cast doubt as to the involvement of a corporeal hound in the event, let alone one that can be linked to him.
Professor Bayard's theory cannot account for Stapleton's possession, treatment, and housing of the hound itself. In particular, we have the Professor suggesting that Stapleton may have painted the dog in phosphorus in order to ensure his beloved pet would not get lost in the dark, while out on the moor. He actually suggests this as an explanation for the hound's having been decked out so, when it was finally killed. As an alternative, he suggests, Stapleton painted the dog with the luminescent substance as a bit of mischief at the expense of the superstitious moorfolk, perhaps.
Both these suggestions relating to a detail that is absolutely fatal to his own theory of the case are simply absurd. If visibility is the issue, and phosphorus is part of the solution, then paint a collar or a dog vest with it, not the face and body of the animal itself. Furthermore, phosphorus is toxic and burns upon contact with the skin and mucus membranes. Applying this substance under any circumstances is not done to one's cherished pet. Sir Conan Doyle did not have to worry too much about toxicology here, because his hound was half starved and otherwise being used as nothing more than a tool for murder. (Though the nature of the substance would tend to make its canine bearer incapable of following a scent even if, as Holmes concludes, the phosphorus had been treated so as to eliminate its scent. So maybe Sir Conan Doyle did not worry enough, but this is a failure of the author, not his detective.)
That Stapleton kept the hound at a secluded location, one accessible only to him, and only seemed to have the dog at his residence when needed for serious mischief, but even then, hidden in an outhouse until the exact moment of deployment, also suggests nothing but the exact nefarious purpose Sherlock Holmes surmises. (And what of Dr. Mortimer's cocker-spaniel, found dead at Stapleton's secret kennel? That seems to be a loose end in and of itself. Though an unpleasant theory comes to mind regarding the encouragement of bloodlust in the larger animal.)
Arguably, Professor Bayard's chief flaw in his analysis is that he fails to apply the same level of critical analysis to his own theory that he is all too willing to apply to Holmes' reasoning. He is, for instance, critical of Holmes for imputing to Stapleton a means for murder that is needlessly elaborate for its purpose. While this is a perfectly valid inquiry, particularly when one asks why Stapleton would try to use the hound to kill Sir Henry, even if the hound had proved wonderfully successful in getting Sir Charles out of the way. After all, Sir Henry has no known history of heart disease or an obsession with the legend itself. In fact it's a very good question to ask. Though it's a question better asked of the author, not the detective, given the clues at hand. But Professor Bayard goes on to argue that Stapleton is innocent of two wrongful deaths, and indeed was the victim of the real murderer in the book. This is the theory he is trying so hard to make room for.
The big problem for Professor Bayard, even if he had succeeded in clearing the way for this theory to take off, is that his theory is even more complex and elaborate than the theory he seeks to supplant. Not only does the murderer seek to capitalize on the accidental death by hound of Sir Charles, that villain must also manipulate Dr. Mortimer, Dr. Watson, Stapleton (and perhaps also the hound itself), Sir Henry, and, most of all, Sherlock Holmes himself. And all for the purpose of killing Stapleton in a manner that could easily have been done on just about any ol' foggy night on the moor.
Of course our arch-villain also may have had designs on the Baskerville estate as well, but that merely justifies some of the added complexity entailed by his theory, it does not give that theory any greater explanatory power than it otherwise would have had. Put another way, those loftier designs flush out that person's motive to be this grand-manipulator, but those designs do little to explain all of the improbabilities that flow from that theory -- chief of which is existence of the big, menacing, glowing dog, who seems intent on running down anyone who smells like Sir Henry.
Many of Bayard's insights are spot on; for example, that literature creates "worlds" with "gaps" and it is up to our imaginations to fill in the rest with no two literature "worlds" the same. Once he leaves the silly psycho babble behind, he makes many cogent points poking holes in the standard explanation (as given by Sherlock himself). He starts with a different presupposition on what the clues in the first death mean. This leads directly to an alternate explanation, which seems to have fewer inconsistencies and contradictions than the standard, but is by no means free of them. The standard explanation is, frankly, logically preposterous. Bayard's alternate, despite its problems, not so much. Bayard never mentions suspension of disbelief as necessary when reading Sherlock Holmes adventures. His tone is one of serious textual analysis, which, again, might be a straight faced joke. So too, Doyle might very well have put one over on his hero, his readers, and his publisher, but, since his canon is flawed, so would be his "real solution." From reading his historical novels (White Company and Sir Nigel) I am aware that Doyle did not put a ton of effort into eliminating all inconsistencies, even when writing these two allegedly connected novels about "real" history. So why should we expect any better consistency from the fictional Holmes stories when Doyle's "first love" was writing historical novels?