National Press Club

Vicious hound hooks Dirda on Holmes stories

December 14, 2011 | By Joe Motheral |

Michael Dirda, author of "On Conan Doyle"

Michael Dirda, author of "On Conan Doyle"

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The author of a new book about the creator of the mystery hero Sherlock Holmes became hooked on the detective series by furtively reading one of the scariest novels in the collection, "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

“The moment had to be right," said Michael Dirda, author of "On Conan Doyle," at a National Press Club Book Rap on Dec. 12. "I waited until my sisters and parents went somewhere. It had to be a dark and stormy night. I settled in the recliner with a blanket and began to read.”

In the book he remembers that Holmes had asked whether the footprints were a man or woman’s around a recently deceased body. “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a great hound,” the detective is told.

Dirda returned to the library for more Holmes books and since has become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Red Circle, organizations that dote on the antics of the famous detective.

A Pulitzer-prize winning critic and book columnist for the Washington Post, Dirda discussed his new book with an audience of predominately Sherlock Holmes fans for whom the words “It’s elementary, my dear Watson” resonate more than a century after flowing out of Doyle's pen.

Dirda pointed out that Doyle wrote prolifically on subjects other than Sherlock Holmes.

“He wrote funny stories,” Dirda said.

In the Challenger stories, for example, he quotes the main character addressing his butler: “I’m expecting the end of the world today, Austin.”

“What time sir?”

The Book Rap was scheduled the week after a Sherlock Holmes night at the Club arranged by Emily Whitten, a member of Young Members and Book and Author committees who introduced the author.