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Bookends: The Great Detective Returns to Baskerville Hall February 6, 2013

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Bookends: The Great Detective Returns to Baskerville HallThe Moor

By Dan Davidson

October 31, 2012,     Star, Nov. 2/12

– 940 words –

The Moor

By Laurie R. King

Picador

320 pages

$18.50

I admit to having overdosed on the Great Detective a few years ago. As a result there are several unread pastiche works sitting on my shelves that haven’t been touched. My interest was reawakened by the two Guy Ritchie movies and the delightful British television series. This column, I must admit, was prompted by my noticing that the volume at hand was back in print from a different publisher.

This series of novels might be seen as the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs., Sherlock Holmes, which will seem odd indeed to those who haven’t encountered them before. It’s been at least 7 years since I last reviewed one of these books so a slight recap is in order.

At the age of 15 a precocious and brilliant 15-year-old named Mary Russell stumbles across a middle aged Sherlock Holmes at his beekeeping retreat in the Sussex Downs and figures out who he is. It’s 1915 and the two of them get involved in a number of adventures over the next four years, with Holmes training her as a detective. Seven years later they finally admit they are more than colleagues and, despite the great age gap between them, get married. Mary keeps her maiden name. More adventures follow in two additional novels taking us up to about 1923.

In The Moor, King attempts something rather daring, which is to take Holmes and Russell back to the scene of his most famous adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, from thirty years earlier. His godfather, Sabine Baring-Gould, asks Homes to look into the murder of a local moor dweller. This takes the couple to Dartmoor.

King is having a lot of fun here, since Sabine Baring-Gould is a real person (he wrote the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” and some 1200 other publications, from non-fiction to novels) and the ancestor of W.S. Baring-Gould, the eminent Sherlockian who penned Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. A biography of the world’s first consulting detective in 1962.

The Moor is in no way a sequel to Conan Doyle’s orginal story, and yet it mines the same Dartmoor locale for its atmosphere and even has Holmes and Russell revisit Baskerville Hall. There is a hound, the presence of which is played up on the cover of the new edition. I prefer my original copy. It emphasizes the ghostly carriage of Lady Howard, which is said to haunt the moor trails on certain nights. The coach is accompanied by a hound, but this is quite a different creature from the one in the Baskerville curse.

Indeed, something quite different from the original murder mystery is being concocted by the villains of the piece, and it is some time before any of it comes clear. Both Russell (who is no mere amanuensis for Holmes, though hers in the narrator’s voice) and Holmes are resourceful, clever and observant sleuths, but the solution to the ghostly appearances and the murders (for there is another about half-way through the book) is not easily uncovered.

The couple follow different leads and come to the same conclusions by different routes. Holmes’ is a physical search out on the moor. Russell spends her share of time slogging through mud and mire, but actually finds her answers amongst the copious written works of their aged host, the Squire of Lew Trenchard, Baring-Gould. Both also make use of telegrams and sources abroad to fill in gaps in their knowledge.

King’s books are not standard Holmes’ pastiches, and are really more about Russell than about her husband. In her 2006 book, The Art of Detection, part of her present day Kate Martinelli series, King unearthed a solo Holmes adventure set in San Francisco in the 1920s, and proved that she was quite capable of doing that sort of thing. The Russell narratives are mysteries, but they are also about a relationship between two gifted and interesting individuals who are truly fond of each other and compliment each other’s abilities.

Holmes once described Watson as being one who reflected light well, though he cast no light of his own. He would never say that about his wife.

Of particular interest to Yukon readers is the fact that the latest owner of Baskerville Hall, a Mr. Ketteridge, was a stampeder during the Klondike Gold Rush. Some proofreading error manages to scramble the dates in one of the references and place the rush in 1887, but the other dates around it on the same page are correct. While Holmes and Russell are dinner guests, Ketteridge regales them with tales of climbing the Golden Stairs, and getting caught in the avalanche at the Scales in April 1898. He subsequently continued on to Dawson, made a fortune in the Klondike, travelled the world and was captured by the moor and the opportunity to buy Baskerville Hall while travelling in the United Kingdom. By then the place had run down quite a bit and he tackled it as a restoration project.

The Moor is a bit of a slow starter, but it builds. I was able to hold it to a chapter a day while pursuing other reading, but it eventually pushed those books out of the way and demanded to be finished.

If the character of Baring-Gould stirs your interest, and it might, eight of his books are available on the Project Guternburg website, and cover every topic from werewolves, to Cliff Castles, Cave Dwellings, myths of the Middle Ages and a a book of sermons.

-30-

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