The Mysterious Tale of Sherlock's Return

There are three things that made me want to review this book: 1. My love of historical fiction. 2. The fact that I have collaborated with another writer of some renown, albeit on a book and not a short story. And 3: Sherlock Holmes. I am always interested in anything Sherlock Holmes. Baskerville by John O’Connell allows us to see the author behind Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and we see this fictional idea of a man in a way that seems so true to how ACD was in real life.

Without being able to use a time machine to travel into the past, we must rely instead on historical records, old newspaper articles and related accounts of what a person was like, or may have been like. For something such as historical fiction, a degree of accuracy is expected of the author. Here O’Connell strives to achieve that accuracy. Who knows if the Doyle in this story really was the Doyle that existed in real life, but here, the character Doyle representing the real one seems pretty darn accurate to me, given what I have read about the man, and what is known about him. His notoriety for a work of fiction that he secretly disliked? Check. His interest in spiritualism? Check. His tenacity as a writer? Check. The Doyle in this story achieves a satisfying level of realness to the reader, making this story much more acceptable as something that COULD have happened rather than the author’s idea of how it may have happened based on the debate over one of Doyle’s Sherlock stories.

The act of collaboration can be a risk for any writer, the least of which being one or both writers taking issue with how something is written. In a book I co-wrote, areas of the book which I myself wrote had material added, as well as edits done to reflect my co-author’s voice instead of mine. I was not troubled by this, as it was also her book so just as well her voice was there too, but it did throw me at first. Just as the character Robinson was confused over how Doyle seems to be “taking over” the story and rewriting his contributions in his own voice. This can happen during any collaborative effort, and I had to wonder if Robinson had collaborated with other writers before. Even though he and Doyle agreed to share the byline, it is ultimately a Sherlock Holmes story, so it’s not entirely surprising that Doyle would strive to keep the “voice” of the story, and the prose, as true to form as possible. Unfortunately, Robinson saw it differently, and he takes issue with Doyle over little things related to this story, even the letter Doyle writes to the editor of The Strand about it. They bicker over the title, with Doyle insisting on “Hound of the Baskervilles” instead of Robinson’s “Wolf of the Baskervilles,” and there is also disagreement over where the story will be set. Robinson secretly decides to use material from their research and idea-swapping for his own book, a way he feels he can “get back” at Doyle for “stealing” what was basically “his” idea for a story.

But, see, this is where Doyle was in the right. Fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories would have been put off if the story was not written in the same style and voice they had come to know and love. Whether or not such quarrels existed between Doyle and Robinson in real life, it would not be too far a stretch of the imagination to assume that, as collaborators, an attempt to keep the story in Doyle’s voice would have caused some discord.

So, did Doyle REALLY steal a story idea from Robinson? That is the big question in this book. Reading the dedication in The Complete Sherlock Holmes for “The Hound of the Baskervilles” story does not answer this question, and a search on the Internet gives a “maybe” answer, where readers who follow this story will learn that the man behind the Baskerville name, a driver, was saying as much after the book came out. The author tries to recreate an episode in history that sparked such a debate, and he does a very good job in recreating what MAY have happened between the two men. Doyle is well-written and Robinson is well-written. The events that transpire in this story could very well have taken place, and the author went to the trouble of making the story timely by including bits of the suffragist movement through the character Gladys. But this story does not, unfortunately, answer the question of whether or not Doyle stole someone’s idea. It only suggests that…maybe he did. Or maybe he didn’t. It is the reader who is left to answer that question.

Before I read this book, I was not aware of the controversy surrounding the authorship of what is perhaps Doyle’s most famous work. I enjoyed reading this novel and could not help but think that Doyle and Robinson were a virtual Holmes and Watson pairing. A lot of the book is written similarly to how Watson composed his tales of his adventures with Holmes and the prose really drew me in with how the characters spoke and presented themselves. It’s a good story and I definitely recommend it to fans of Sherlock Holmes.

On a return trip from South Africa, journalist Bertrand Fletcher Robinson has the luck of meeting famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The two men get along well and Bertrand shares interesting stories from his boyhood that include a ghostly hound. Doyle is intrigued by the stories and proposes they use them as the basis of one story featuring a “resurrected” Sherlock Holmes. The chance to work with Doyle appeals to Robinson, but as the two men work on the story that becomes “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” things go sour and Robinson begins to wonder just what kind of role he is playing in this collaborative effort that doesn’t quite seem as collaborative anymore.

Book Blurb for Baskerville

Based on true events in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this darkly thrilling tale of friendship, rivalry, and ambition tells the backstory of how one of the world’s most celebrated mysteries came to be written.

“I like the way your mind works,” said Doyle. “We should work on something together. Pool our resources. What do you say?” I said I would like that very much…

Young journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson can barely believe his luck when he meets his hero, Arthur Conan Doyle, on a troop ship coming back from South Africa. Better yet, the creator of Sherlock Holmes suggests they collaborate on a “real creeper” of a story—a plan that throws them into one of the most dramatic and harrowing adventures of their lives.

The two travel to Dartmoor, England, cementing their friendship as Robinson and Doyle start to work on what will become one of the world’s most famous novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles. But the experience proves traumatic for both of them, and when the book—anticipated to be Sherlock’s comeback vehicle—is finally published, it is credited to one author alone.

Based on real events, Baskerville is a creeper, too: a thrilling exploration of friendship and rivalry, love and lust, ambition and the limits of talent. It takes us from the clattering heart of Edwardian London to the eerie stillness of ancient West Country moors, where a treacherous bog might swallow a man in seconds…

Night Owl Reviews Jul, 2013 5.00