Thursday, March 04, 2010

White-Hot Incandescent Rage Directed At An Insignificant Target

So let me get this straight, Pierre Bayard, author of "Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong". You think that Holmes' solution to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was absurd, filled with numerous plot holes and logical inconsistencies. You propose an alternate, more logical theory. And that theory is...

...that Jack Stapleton, lost heir to the Baskerville estate, decides to move back to the area of his ancestral home after a falling-out with his wife that has led to her demanding that he publicly pretend to be her sister. He complies, and happens to find out that his uncle (the current tenant) has made a fortune in South African gold and is phenomenally wealthy. He befriends his wealthy uncle without bothering to mention his family connection (presumably not to bother the philanthropically-inclined relative who laments the fact that he has no children to pass on the title to) and discovers that his uncle's will leaves the fortune to the inheritor of the title, and that his uncle has a weak heart. He then decides, quite innocently, to buy a giant black hound. And in order to make sure that he can see the dog when he takes it for night-time strolls, he paints it glow-in-the-dark.

Then he falls in love with a married woman, and convinces her to ask his uncle for the money to fund a divorce. Then he changes his mind at the last minute, tells her not to ask after all, and goes to ask his uncle himself. Unfortunately, he brings his dog along, entirely forgetting his uncle's weak heart and morbid preoccupation with the spectral hound that supposedly murdered his ancestor.

Following the entirely accidental fatal heart attack caused by the friendly giant black hound lunging out of the darkness, its face glowing with phantasmal light, his wife Beryl (who has decided to pose as his sister) comes up with a plan to kill her husband as punishment for having an affair with a married woman. She knows that he is in the habit of wandering through the deadly swamps of Grimpen Mire, which has swallowed people without a trace, and that the two of them have marked out a safe course through the bottomless mud. Naturally, her plan is to frame him for the murder of his uncle and convince Sherlock Holmes to investigate, getting him down to the Baskerville estate so that she can then convince everyone that her husband/brother fled justice by running into the swamps and losing his footing.

She suggests to Doctor Mortimer, the executor of the estate, that he should go to Holmes to investigate the evidence that a demonic hound was involved before the new heir to the estate arrives. He agrees instantly, and heads off to meet Holmes. Meanwhile, she travels to London and attracts Holmes' attention with a bizarre letter that warns the new heir off (she is, of course, entirely certain that he will ignore this, based on her superior knowledge of the psychology of total strangers she's never met. And a lucky thing, too, as her entire plan hinges on him ignoring the warning she's giving him.) She also shadows the new heir in disguise, in full sight of Holmes in order to convince Holmes that someone is shadowing the new heir. This might be seen as slightly risky, given that Holmes might catch her and unmask her, but it's necessary because she needs to...because it is, of course. Oh, and she steals the new heir's boots in order to convince Holmes that they're needed to give the dog a scent.

Holmes and Watson arrive, with Holmes traveling in secret to make sure that nobody knows about him. Luckily, during this period, Stapleton doesn't decide to innocently walk his glow-in-the-dark giant dog, because if Holmes or Watson bumped into him when he was walking the dog, he'd explain the entire situation and Beryl's entire plan would fail. Also luckily, an escaped convict in the area wearing the new heir's old clothes just happens to trip and fall and break his neck, which Holmes attributes (foolishly) to his running away from the dog.

Then, Beryl's plan comes off perfectly. She tricks her husband into inviting the new heir out to dinner, pretending to be ill so that nobody sees her, providing her with an alibi, wait, um, so that she can not be there when things happen, so...OK, skip that bit. The point is, she pretends to be ill. Then, when the new heir leaves the house, she sprints off, lets the hound out, sprints back to her husband, lures him into the marsh by telling him the dog got loose, shoves him into a mud pit, and finally sprints back to her room while Holmes and Watson are killing the dog. Finally, in order to provide herself with an airtight alibi, she beats herself up and ties herself hand and foot to a post for Holmes to find. (Actually, she manages to somehow tie herself hand and foot, gag herself, then bind her own arms and legs with strips of cloth. It's sort of like being an escape artist in reverse.) All in the time it takes for Holmes and Watson to chase down the dog, shoot it, and return to the house searching for her husband.

And Bayard seriously expects people to pay money for this book?


Michael Hoskin said...

Wow, like shooting fish in a barrel.

John Seavey said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that she ran outside and shoved her husband into the muddy bog and ran back inside and ran upstairs and tied herself up all without leaving a single muddy footprint--a footprint that the superhumanly observant Holmes would have surely noticed and used to unravel her whole deception.

Colin Smith said...

Well, I thought you might be constructing a clever little spectacle of your own here, because it did seem just too ridiculous for any sane, self-respecting person to write such rubbish. And I would've applauded you for the invention. But a quick goggle does indeed bring me to Pierre Bayard on Wiki, "a French author, professor of literature and connoisseur of psychology".

Oh, well, that makes explains it then. Shame that alot of literature professors and "connoisseurs" of psychology don't write some decent stories of their own before writing such nonsense.(Honourable exception to John Carey, Merton Professor Of English at Oxford Uni, who leads off his "Pure Pleasure" with a chapter about how fine a story HOTB is, and even notes that "... Sherlock Holmes would have cackled with ironic laughter" at Carey's worthy words. No wonder Carey is never in any of the lists of hip literature theorists. He makes sense.)

Sorry. Had to vent. Nothing's been worse for literature than "Literature".

Beachfox said...

See, if he'd just posted this to like everyone else who gets these sorts of ideas, he would've gotten lots of positive feedback and pats on the head.

And a few negative reviews because of the lack of romantic tension between Holmes and Watson, but what can you expect?

PS: I picked up the book for a dollar at the Goodwill bookstore and consider it money well spent. Because it is a derangedly over-complicated "simplified explanation" of the case.