illustrated outline of a large, ferocious-looking dog with red eyes

The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Start Free Trial

What methods does Sherlock Holmes use to solve the murder in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Holmes uses his usual analytical and empirical methods to solve the crime. He dismisses from the start any superstitious notion of a legend of a mysterious demonic hound and applies logic to his search for a murderer and motive.

One method Sherlock Holmes uses to solve the crime is simply background research. He discovers that Stapleton has only a few people between him and inheriting the Baskerville estate, which makes him a very likely suspect.

Holmes also uses subterfuge. He doesn't want a mastermind like Stapleton to know that he, Holmes, is on his tail, for fear it will make him extra cautious. Therefore, he sends Watson up alone to investigate, but also sneaks up himself in disguise to do sleuthing, unbeknownst even to Watson.

Finally, near the end, Holmes makes bold moves to confront the hound and manages to do so, saving Sir Henry in the process and revealing that Stapleton has been using a very large dog painted with phosphorus to kill the other people in the way of his inheriting.

After the fact, Holmes processes what has happened and fills in remained loose ends by speaking with women closely involved in the case who suspected Stapleton of evil-doing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

First of all, there technically was no "murder" to be solved in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Charles died under mysterious circumstances that indicated his ancestral curse may have been to blame, but the cause of death was a heart attack. Although Stapleton, who sent out the glowing hound to scare Sir Charles, was the cause of that heart attack, whether Stapleton could actually be convicted of murder for Sir Charles' death is uncertain since "no signs of violence were to be discovered on Sir Charles's person." Nevertheless, Holmes is able to discover the underlying foul play in Sir Charles' death and prevent a more overt murder of Sir Henry by his excellent detective work. Some of the methods he uses to solve the case are interviews and research, occult observation, first-hand observation of the suspect and the setting, and a "sting" operation. 

Interestingly in this story, Holmes is absent for multiple chapters because he sends Watson to be the on-site attendant of Sir Henry, the client who is in danger. Holmes uses this time when Watson takes the attention off of Holmes to do a lot of background research and interviews which are not revealed to Watson or the reader until later. At the same time, he engages in occult, or hidden, observation of the setting by living in one of the Neolithic huts on the moor. Watson notices a mysterious "man on the Tor" who turns out to be Holmes. Holmes then makes himself available outwardly at the home of Sir Henry, where he is able to observe that the portrait of one of the Baskerville ancestors bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Stapleton, confirming his suspicion about Stapleton. Holmes and Watson then arrange with Sir Henry to take a dangerous walk home in the dark from the Stapletons, which is designed to lure Stapleton into making his move against Sir Henry. Although this risky sting operation imperils Sir Henry, Holmes is able to shoot the attacking hound before it harms his client, and the perpetrator of the crime runs off into the moor, presumably to be sucked into the Grimpen Mire. At the end, Holmes reveals to Watson any remaining loose ends. 

Holmes' behind-the-scenes research, use of Watson as a distraction while he observes the suspect from a distance, on-site observation to confirm his theories, and final sting operation are some of the main techniques Holmes uses to clarify the circumstances of Sir Charles' death and to prevent the untimely demise of Sir Henry.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What evidence does Holmes use to solve the crime in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Holmes uses many kinds of evidence to solve the crime in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

1. Dr. Mortimer's testimony: Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes about the tale of the hound and that Sir Charles’s heart had been weak for some time. He also tells Holmes two things he has discovered near Sir Charles’s body: footprints of a huge hound and a cigar that has burned down. Besides, he mentions the change in Sir Charles’s footprints discovered by Barrymore. Based on this information, Holmes deduces that Sir Charles was waiting for someone that night when he saw a huge hound. He was frightened and started to run until his heart suddenly stopped.

2. Strange things that happened to Sir Henry: Two strange things happened to Sir Henry when he was still in London. One is that one of his new shoes was taken and put back; then an old shoe went missing and never showed up. This ensures to Holmes that the hound must be a natural and not a supernatural creature because apparently it needs to smell someone’s belonging in order to track that person. The other thing is that Sir Henry received a letter warning him of the danger in the Baskerville Hall. Holmes detects perfume smell on the letter so he deduces that the letter was written by a woman.

3. Barrymore’s testimony: Barrymore confirmed that Sir Charles was waiting for someone on the night he died. He further told Dr. Watson that Sir Charles received a letter from a woman with initials "L. L.," and he was instructed to burn that letter after reading it. Holmes knows this woman must have a lot to do with Sir Charles’s death.

4. Interview with Mrs. Lyons: Watson visited Mrs. Lyons and confirmed the fact that she was that L.L., who sent the letter and failed to come to the appointment. Holmes learns about her relationship with Mr. Stapleton and deduces that she’s instructed by Mr. Stapleton to send the letter because she wanted to marry him. This was confirmed during the second interview with Mrs. Lyons.

5. Investigation of the Stapletons: Watson reported some strange behaviors of the Stapleton siblings to Holmes. For example, Miss Stapleton mistook Watson for Sir Henry and warned him of the danger. Mr. Stapleton tried to prevent Miss Stapleton from being together with Sir Henry. Learning that the siblings once owned a school in the north of England, Holmes investigates their background and finds that they’re actually husband and wife rather than brother and sister. This makes them very suspicious. Holmes then learns that they come from South America, where Roger Baskerville was supposed to have fled to and died. He also compares the face of Mr. Stapleton with the picture of Hugo Baskerville and finds great resemblance. Therefore, he concludes that Mr. Stapleton is a Baskerville. He murdered Sir Charles and is planning to murder Sir Henry as well so that he can inherit the fortune of the Baskervilles.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What evidence does Holmes use to solve the crime in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

One important piece of evidence in solving the mystery was Sir Henry's missing boot. Holmes deduced that the reason a boot was purposefully taken was to give Sir Henry's scent to the Hound of the Baskervilles. The new brown boot was surreptitiously returned meaning that the new one wouldn't serve any purpose. Therefore, it was the scent of Sir Henry from the old black boot that was needed, not one or two random lone boots.

(Holmes) "But, surely, you said that it was a new brown boot?"
(Sir Henry) "So it was, sir. And now it's an old black one."

Another piece of evidence was the letter from Laura Lyons asking Sir Charles Baskerville to meet her at night on the desolate moor. She had asked the letter be burned, but Barrymore had read the remaining unburned bits anyway. Laura hadn't gone to meet Sir Charles. Why not? Holmes deduced that she never meant to go, that she was part of a plot by the murderer to get Baskerville alone.

These and other points of evidence tell Holmes, in one of Doyle's more complex plots, that Stapleton was the murderer. The evening Holmes spent in the Baskerville manor revealed Stapleton's motive: he was the secret child of Charles Basekrville's younger brother and intended to remove his relative then claim the Baskerville inheritance for himself. Stapleton used Henry old black boot to train a Mastiff dog to Sir Henry's scent, starved the dog, then released it, first, against the hapless Sir Charles, then again against Sir Henry, who was happily saved by Holmes.

(Holmes) "I was prepared for a hound, but not for such a creature as this."

(Sir Henry) "You have saved my life."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on