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Guest blog: Keeping Up With The Baskervilles, by Rohan Gavin

This is a guest post by Rohan Gavin, author of the Knightley & Son books. We previously reviewed the first book in the series, Knightley & Son, and will be posting our review of Knightley & Son: K-9 tomorrow, when the book is officially released.

Keeping Up With The Baskervilles

By Rohan Gavin

Rohan Gavin

Rohan Gavin

Having finished my own riff on a detectives-hunt-hound story in Knightley & Son: K-9, in a few days I have the daunting task of holding a workshop on its inspiration: Conan Doyle’s masterwork The Hound of the Baskervilles. Along the way I discovered some clues to the hound’s creepy charm. For a start, it wasn’t always meant to be a Holmes story. Incredibly, Conan Doyle conceived the tale with a journalist pal Bertram Fletcher Robinson as a stand-alone thriller based on a West Country legend. Only later did Doyle realise the gigantic hound stalking the moors would be a perfect case for his old–and, at the time, supposedly deceased–hero Sherlock, who’d recently fallen to his death from the Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem. Needless to say, there was a hunger for Sherlock to return to life, and the pair sold The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Strand Magazine in 1901 for serialisation and were paid Doyle’s customary hundred pounds per thousand words, which at today’s rates would total well over half a million pounds. Robinson was soon playing second fiddle to the master plotter, and Doyle cleverly set the story several years before Sherlock’s apparent demise (an early example of a “prequel”), so he could decide later if he wanted to resurrect Holmes for good–which fortunately he did.

The case is unique because it’s one of the few stories that takes Holmes out of London, and on this occasion, to exotically bleak Dartmoor (complete with man-eating bog: Grimpen Mire–where, sadly, ponies aren’t safe either). With the prospect of a supernatural hound on the loose, Conan Doyle got to indulge his love of gothic horror and also his growing love of the paranormal. Though Holmes is thoroughly scientific, his creator became obsessed with psychic phenomena in later life, attending séances and famously feuding with his one-time friend the illusionist Harry Houdini who believed psychics were mere tricksters. But Conan Doyle believed in the supernatural to his death-bed, and this eccentricity was the inspiration for the father character Alan Knightley in Knightley & Son: a once-rational detective who’s been driven to believe in the outlandish (werewolves and conspiracies) when no other theory makes sense. His thirteen-year-old son, hero Darkus Knightley, is the voice of reason, who coaxes his dad towards a logical solution.

But the most surprising thing about the Baskerville case is that after discovering a beast is allegedly haunting the family, causing the heart attack of the most recent heir to the estate, Holmes decides to dispatch Watson to investigate in his place! Sherlock’s true motive is revealed later, but for much of the book we are treated to some quality time in the company of the good doctor. With the earnest but amateurish Watson at the helm, investigating missing boots, an escaped prisoner, a suspicious butler, a strange family portrait, and a spooky house on the edge of the moors, as a reader you’re far more uneasy than if you knew Holmes was at your side to read each clue. And the ultimate villain (who I won’t reveal) is so perfectly disguised and the reader so masterfully misdirected that we barely even suspect them. Maybe Conan Doyle and Houdini weren’t so different after all. But evil itself is something no detective can defeat. In the case of the Baskervilles, it’s the secrets hidden in families, the thirst for inheritance and power, and the misdeeds that come back to haunt them. In K-9, well you’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, if you’ve got any skeletons in the family closet, don’t be surprised if a large hound follows you home. Fortunately my family dog was a distinctly un-terrifying Labrador who regularly showed up at the neighbours’ house, mistaking it for ours.

Rohan Gavin will talk about The Hound of the Baskervilles at Edinburgh Festival on 19th August.

 

Knightley & Son: K-9 is available now. For more on the series, visit: www.knightleyandson.com

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