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The Unique Detective Conventions


The detective genre is known for having a detective with very unique characteristics that set
him/her apart from everyone else in society. Some of these traits are their eye for detail, their high level
of knowledge, and their paradoxical social behavior. Scholars like Konnikova, Panek, Binyon, and
Delamater and Prigozy describe how these characteristics define the detective novel. These
characteristics are exemplified by Sherlock Holmes in the novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, written
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is about one of Holmess cases where he has to discover if a
family curse is a myth or not. Dr. Mortimer presented Holmes with a case where a man named Sir
Charles Baskerville had been found dead. He goes on to tell Holmes that the Baskerville family has a
curse. One of their ancestors, Hugo Baskerville, had taken a girl captive, but she later escaped. When he
went to go find her, he was apparently killed by a supernatural hound. The next heir in line who is to take
over Baskerville Hall after the death of Sir Charles is Sir Henry Baskerville. Dr. Mortimer asks Holmes
what he should do about Sir Henry. Holmes goes on to solve the case after being presented with lots of
evidence like a letter composed of newspaper clippings warning Sir Henry to stay away from the moor
and discovering that someone had been following Sir Henry. In the end, it turns out that a local resident
of the moor had killed Sir Charles and attempted to kill Sir Henry with a huge hound he cared for. The
motive behind his acts was to take over Baskerville Hall because Mr. Stapleton, the killer, was a
Baskerville relative no one knew about. Despite his efforts, Mr. Stapleton died at the end of the book
from the Grimpen Mire, which was a place on the moor that was like quicksand and if you got close
enough you would be sucked up by it.
Holmes is so in tune with his surroundings that he can find evidence with hardly any clues. For
example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Holmes and Watson are examining the cane left by Dr.
Mortimer, Holmes concludes that the owner of the cane has a dog because of bite marks left on the stick
and notes that The dogs jaw, as shown in the space between these [bite marks], is too broad in my

opinion for a terrier and not broad enough for a mastiff. It may have been- yes, by Jove, its a curlyhaired spaniel (loc. 163). Holmes examines the bite marks on the cane, so closely that he was able to
conclude that they were from a dog and that the dog was a spaniel because of the spacing of the bite
marks. It turns out that Holmes was right because Dr. Mortimer, the owner of the cane, has a curlyhaired spaniel. If Holmes was not well trained in observing objects or his surroundings, then he would
not have been able to come to such a spectacular conclusion, which normal people like Watson would not
have been able to see. In Konnikovas first chapter of How to Think Like Sherlock, she further delves into
this concept by giving name to how both Holmes and Watson think by the Holmes System (18) and the
Watson System (18). She describes the Holmes System as someone who takes all facts into
consideration before coming to a conclusion and the Watson System as our nave selves, operating by
the lazy thought habits (18). She believes everyone should and can train themselves to think more like
the Holmes System rather than the Watson System because the Holmes System has a better idea on what
the right choices to make are. This is true because the Watson System reacts on instinct without thinking
of the result or consequences, so having a way of thinking that is more like the Holmes System will lessen
the mistakes people make. While Panek does not mention how we should think more like Holmes, he
brings attention to how observant Holmes is like Konnikova does. Panek states that Doyle made Holmes
an instrument for detection (82) in his early works from the influence of Gaboriaus mathematically
accurate crime-solving machine (82) detective. In Paneks chapter, Doyle, Panek notes how important
Doyles inspiration from other detective genre writers like Gabroiau is because it is all a part of how
Holmess character came to life. With Doyle making Holmes an instrument for detection, (82) Doyle
was able to show his readers how observant Holmes is and what steps he takes in finding clues.
Furthermore, detectives from the detective genre are natural geniuses. Sherlock Holmes is a part
of this category. He astounds the characters written into the short stories and novels with him as well as
the readers of the stories. Holmess genius was shown in The Hound of the Baskervilles when he decided
to look at the register (loc. 712) of the hotel Sir Henry was staying at to see if he could find out who

was following Henry. Two names were signed in under Henrys. After Holmes asked about them, he
found out that they were both frequent visitors of the hotel, so Holmes came to the conclusion that the
people who are so interested in [Sir Henry] have not settled down in his own hotel (loc. 724). It was
incredibly smart for Holmes to look at the sign-in sheet because the follower and possibly killer could
have been right under their noses and they wouldnt have known because they didnt do something simple
like checking the sign-in sheet. As stated by Konnikova in How to Think Like Sherlock, Holmes is an
ever-present model for how to accomplish what may look at first glance like a herculean task
(Konnikova 20). This is true because no one else was able to solve the Baskerville case besides him and
he was able to accomplish this with his smarts and looking at things other people wouldnt think of like a
sign-in sheet for hotel residents. Panek agrees with Konnikova on Holmess genius, but states it in a
different way. In a chapter called Doyle, Panek explains that in Doyles stories about Holmes, both
the powerful and humble seek out Holmes to air their problems before them (76) because they know
of Holmess reputation and they want to come to the conclusions of their problems. The police during
this time, the Victorian Era, also were not very effective, so lots of crimes were not being solved. It
helped the people to know that there was someone like Holmes who was extremely smart and willing to
solve any case. Panek also says in Doyle that Holmes is a genius in the crime solving department
because He fills his cranial attic only with those things which help him solve crimes (82). Holmes does
not retain information that has to do with things like astronomy because when he needs to solve a case
this information will have no value to him.
Additionally, detectives have a paradoxical social behavior. They interact and do some of the
same things as other people, but a lot of the time they are completely closed off and dont like to converse
with other human beings. Holmes would smoke tobacco, which is what the majority of the population did
during the Victorian Era, to help him solve cases, but in doing so, he would want no human interaction, so
he could focus. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Holmes first learns about the case
Dr. Mortimer presents, he has Watson ask someone to send him tobacco. He also asks Watson not to

return before evening because Holmes needs time to himself to start the Baskerville case. In Binyons
book, A Murder Will Out, Binyon goes on to explain that Holmes is another proud, alienated hero,
superior to and isolated from the rest of humanity, (10) but he is also in touch with his romantic side
because he is a music lover and amateur violinist (10). Delamater and Prigozy also see Holmess
eccentric alienation in their book, Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction. They believe he has
a reclusive personality (22) because he loathed every form of society (22). Although Holmes had
humanistic traits like smoking tobacco, being a lover of music, and conversing at times with other people
like Watson and his clients, he would often close himself off from the rest of society.
In conclusion, when you read a detective novel you can expect to have a detective that is very
different from the rest of humanity by their attention to detail, their smarts, and their social eccentricities.
Doyle created a character, Sherlock Holmes, that changed the dynamics of the detective genre, which
include the previously stated conventions of the detective. If Doyle never wrote about Holmes, then the
detective genre would not be as popular as it is today because almost every crime show is influenced,
somehow, by Holmes.

Works Cited
Binyon, T.J. "Murder Will Out": The Detective in Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. PDF
File.
Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sharon, MA: Higher Read, LLC 20143. Kindle
eBook. Online.
Delamater, Jerome and Ruth Prigozy, eds. Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction. New York:
Praeger, 1997. Print. PDF File.

Konnikova, Maria. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. New York: Viking, 2013. PDF
File.
Panek, Leroy. Doyle. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green
State University Popular Press, 1987. PDF File.