Friday, 12 April 2013

The Top Eight Plot Holes in the Hound of the Baskervilles

I loved reading Hound of the Baskervilles, but I think the plot is as holey as Emmental cheese (or Pope Francis to coin a pun).  I don't think these plot-holes really take away from how fun the book is. Sherlock Holmes stories suspend your disbelief, and clearly they are not meant to be realistic. Pointing that out might be as obvious as the classic newspaper headline - Teen Pregnancy Drops Off  Significantly After Age 25 - but, just for fun, here are the top eight plot holes in the Hound of the Baskervilles.

This post assumes you’ve read it, so will contain many spoilers. You can check out my review here.

1. The old Baronet Baskerville dies of fright when Stapleton, the murderer, sets a dog on him. But could Stapleton really count on killing the old Baronet ‘of fright’? The hound chased after him, but what if he simply hadn’t died? Sherlock describes this as a ‘flash of genius’, but surely, at the very best, it is quite a flimsy plan.

2. Apparently, the only way Stapleton could get the old Baronet out of the house (in order to frighten him with the dog) was through an incredibly convoluted process. First, he pretends that his wife is his sister. Then he courts a girl in a neighbouring town, making her fall in love with him. He then asks her to write the Baronet a note asking him to meet her by a fence at night. It’s slightly far-fetched, and couldn’t he just have forged the note himself? But more pressingly, if he was bent on murder using 'frightened by a big dog' as the murder weapon, couldn't he simply have released it into the mansion?

3. In the final scene, Stapleton - hoping to dispose of Henry Baskerville - releases the hound on him as he walks home through the moor. But what was he hoping was going to happen? This young man wouldn’t die of fright like the old Baronet.  Sherlock answers this question with a hand-wave, perhaps the dog was hungry and would eat him. 

That seems unlikely, but it also begs the question, why on earth did Stapleton daub the dog in phosphorous and paint for Henry?  He used that to foster the demonic dog myth - but since Henry wouldn't die of fright, what was he hoping was going to happen?

4. Henry Baskerville walks home in the final scene when he is attacked by the hound. Sherlock has to rescue him with a revolver. But why didn't Henry simply carry a revolver himself? The only assistance that Watson and Holmes provided was to shoot the dog. In fact, if Henry Baskerville had just carried a gun around with him, Sherlock Holmes need not have bothered with the case at all.

5. Most dammingly of all, what was Stapleton hoping would happen after killing the two Baronets? He was - secretly - a Baskerville, but had long called himself Stapleton. Presumably he kept the false name so that no one would guess he had a motive for murdering the two Baskervilles. But, clearly, he would have to change his name to eventually claim the fortune, at which point he would reveal his motive. 

Sherlock speculates that perhaps he would go to South America afterwards and tie everything up there. That is pretty weak. So the plan is 1) Kill all the Baskervilles 2) Go to South America 3)??? 4) Profit!

6. Why did Stapleton pretend his wife was his sister? It seemed to serve only the most tenuous purpose, but how in the world could he have known that he needed to make a girl fall in love with him in order to get her to send a note to the Baronet before he came to Devon? The answer - he couldn't.

7. From Wikipedia: Dr Mortimer is an expert on phrenology, heredity and reversion, yet didn't spot that Stapleton resembles the portrait of Hugo Baskerville

8. Lastly, if everyone kept hearing a big howling dog on the moor, and a big dog’s foot-print turned up at the scene of the first murder, why didn’t someone just go look for it? I simply don't understand why everyone would have assumed it was a myth or a demonic ghost. If someone hears a dog howling - especially Sherlock Holmes, the bastion of rationality -  then the most likely explanation is that there is a dog near by. 


You can buy Hound of the Baskervilles here

Alternatively, this book looks quite fun. It's called:  Sherlock Holmes was wrong, reopening the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles


  1. Just some counter-arguments for the sake of arguing:
    3- By the end of the book even Henry seems to believe there are supernatural forces at play
    5-An earlier TV adaptation of the story specifies that inheriting the fortune wasn't Stapleton's motive.It was revenge for the death of his father.
    [Number 7 is a pretty good point...nice observational skills] :)

  2. i love sherlock holmes/conan doyle but i first read this aged about 8 and the gaping plotholes were apparent to me even then. the most glaring to me are 5) 6) and 8) although i spotted the others too

    in the most recent tv version russell tovey played henry knight *aka baskerville. he was alsp the werewolf in 'being human'. he'd have ripped the hell out of the hound frankly and deservedly so

  3. 1) If the plan failed, Stapleton had nothing to lose (not to mention he could have tried again). But given that Sir Charles was an old man with a weak heart and strongly believed in the hound curse, I'd say the chance the plan failed was pretty slim. If the phosphorous-painted hound didn't scare him to death, it could have attacked and killed him.

    2) Sir Charles would have told if it was a forged note, and to release to hound in the mansion would require free accession to it.

    3) Sir Henry had started to believe in supernatural forces, and even if it wasn't for the scare he could have been attacked and killed by the dog.

    5) If the last Baskerville heir claimed the property from South America, nobody would have discovered that he and "Stapleton" were the same person.

    6) Stapleton was prepared for the chance he needed to have his wife being wooed by the new Baskerville after Sir Charles's death, so it made sense for him to introduce her as his sister.

    7) We are talking about Dr. Mortimer, a fan of phrenology (a risible pseudoscience) and a fan of Monsieur Bertillon (whose conclusions were often wrong). Not the smartest guy, this Mortimer.

    8) Quicksand.