Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, by Pierre Bayard (4 September — 5 September)

I don’t remember where I heard about this book, but it was promised to be a re-examination of The Hound of the Baskervilles that gave proof of a different killer. And… it was, sort of. I guess.

Bayard spends about a quarter of the book summarizing the novel, and then some pages establishing his process of “detective criticism”, e.g. not just finding fault with the book but then figuring out what really happened. Then he spends another quarter of the book talking about the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle (in a word: antagonistic), which doesn’t really have much bearing on the question posed by this book.

And even when Bayard is actually working with the question of what really happened in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he spends more time saying “We must disbelieve this!” and “The only thing we can do here is question that!” which might be true on a can basis but certainly not a must.

What I found really odd and frustrating about this book was that Bayard’s concept that Holmes is wrong and his eventual declaration of a different murderer are really quite reasonable and believable ideas, but so many of his facts are mistaken or just plain wrong that you wonder how he managed to get a decent thesis in the first place! This might be because of the fact that Bayard is French and read a translation of Doyle and then wrote this book and then someone else translated it into English, and in fact there are a couple of translation things noted in the footnotes. But I don’t know.

There’s also a quote at the beginning from my beloved Jasper Fforde, whose concept (well, it’s probably not his, but it’s the one he uses in his books) of fictional characters doing whatever the heck they want while not on the page is referenced often by Bayard as the reason there’s a different murderer. Which just doesn’t make sense, because Bayard offers evidence from the novel that I think very well proves his alternate murderer theory, and he certainly doesn’t need to think that Thursday Next (or some other character) popped in to the novel to cause Doyle’s murderer to be accused. Does that make sense? Probably not. I don’t know what to make of all this.

Rating: 5/10
(The Baker Street Challenge)

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