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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Conan Doyle 'stole Sherlock story'
Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes
The Sherlock Holmes story led to a knighthood
by West of England correspondent Jane O'Brien

When it was first serialised 100 years ago in Strand Magazine, the Hound of the Baskervilles caused an absolute sensation.

Arthur Conan Doyle had bowed to public pressure (and hefty cash incentives from his publisher) to produce a new Sherlock Holmes story.

At the time of that first publication Conan Doyle acknowledged the debt he owed to his friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Did he write the story?
The latter had shown him around Dartmoor, from where inspiration for the story about the deadly beast is understood to have come.

But now historian Rodger Garrick-Steele is claiming that it was in fact Fletcher Robinson who wrote the original book.

And he says Conan Doyle, to avoid being exposed as a fraud, persuaded Robinson's wife, with whom he was having an affair, to poison him.

Mr Garrick-Steele told the BBC that Conan Doyle poisoned his former friend with laudanum.

And he claims that it was at this stage that the now Sir Arthur Conan Doyle realised he must kill his former friend rather than let his plagiarism be discovered.

"Conan Doyle was in an impossible situation, having been rewarded in the most public way possible for an act of plagiarism.

"The price of discovery for that fraud would be disgrace - if his affair with his friend's wife was discovered as well, it would have meant ruin.

"Doyle was an intelligent and determined man, he saw the obvious solution and used his medical training to convince Fletcher Robinson's wife to murder him, thereby solving two problems at once."

Evil squire

Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts and other literary scholars have dismissed the theory, but they admit that Fletcher Robinson's full role in creating the novel has been underplayed.

It was Fletcher Robinson who enthralled Conan Doyle with the story of the evil squire Sir Richard Cabell who sold his soul to Satan and was dragged to hell by a pack of gigantic hounds.

To this day the squire's grave in Buckfast churchyard is surrounded by a mausoleum and iron railings, in order to keep the squire from riding out with his hounds.

It is also generally agreed that Fletcher Robinson and Doyle had indeed planned to jointly write a story about the Squire Cabell legend on Dartmoor.

Why the novel eventually emerged as a new Sherlock Holmes story with Fletcher Robinson reduced to a brief line of thanks on the title page shall remain a mystery, worthy of the great sleuth himself.

See also:

14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Mystery of 'missing' Holmes books solved
22 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Homing in on Sherlock
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