Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles

I just finished reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles for the first time. It is probably his most famous and beloved novel, I believe it is also the most frequently adapted Holmes story as well. There may be a few mini-spoilers near the end of this review, but nothing that should endanger your enjoyment of the book.
The story starts as many do, someone coming to consult Holmes on a problem. In this case it is a country doctor by the name of Mortimer. He has come to meet the new owner of the Baskerville estate, Sir Henry Baskerville, soon to arrive from North America. His relative, Sir Charles Baskerville has just died under slightly mysterious circumstances and Sir Henry is the last living Baskerville.
Stories of a mythic hell-hound haunting the Baskerville family, some missing boots and a mysterious fellow tailing young Sir Henry in London are enough to peak Holmes' interest that there is indeed, something afoot. He sends Watson to Devonshire with Sir Henry while remaining in London to finish up some business surrounding a black mailing case.
By far, Hound is creepier than any of Doyle's previous stories. The wild Devon moors with their unearthly cries and the Grimpen Mire where ponies and people are sucked under, never to return, all set an ambiance of danger and the unknown. However, as we are dealing with Sherlock Holmes, there is a logical explanation behind all, or nearly all. This is also a very Watson centric narrative, as Holmes leaves him on his own to investigate for several chapters. Of course, Holmes is lurking nearby and reenters the story before long. There also seems to be a lot of guy love in this particular story- Watson's determination not to let 'his master'- yes, he calls Holmes his master at one point- down. Still, as much flack as Watson gets for being the "dumb side-kick" he shows time and again in stories like this that he is very sharp and very useful, Holmes wouldn't trust him if he wasn't.
We also receive a very interesting cast of characters all laden with secrets and pasts. Doyle creates some depth to characters that may not be initially thought of as important.
My biggest criticism is that the final chapter is a little too heavy
handed. Doyle felt the need to have Holmes reiterate every important point from
the novel and explain how the conclusion was reached. I felt this was
unnecessary. Any astute reader or even any reader familiar with this kind of
mystery will- metaphorically- prick their ears up at the mention of a very disreputable younger brother supposedly dying in South America some years
As many points of the mystery are very neatly compartmentalized and explained earlier in the novel, the final chapter felt superfluous. Tacked on to make sure everyone got it.
Overall it was a well structured mystery with plenty to keep the reader interested and enough clues to allow you to solve the mystery along with Sherlock Holmes (which is always a mini-ego boost when you do). Continuity was never Doyle's strong point, so I'm not even going to ask what happened to Watson's wife, I'll just assume Doyle misplaced her again.
This is the first of my winter break reading list, I'm still deciding what will be next.


  1. Something about no Sherlock and no Sherlocking has made me fall off my regimen of reading the Canon. Thanks for the preview. I'll have to carve out some quiet time for tea and Memoirs this holiday weekend, so I can get on to Baskervilles.

    Meretricious, and a happy New Year!

  2. Haha, thanks.
    I miss Sherlocking terribly as well.
    I have been forcing my family to watch Sherlock, so I sort of get to experience it again through them. My father is now a huge fan of Freeman's Watson. It took him longer to warm up to Cumberbatch.
    Hope you enjoy Hound as I have!