Saturday, 6 June 2015

'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)

Synopsis: The Hound of the Baskervilles is the fifth book in the Sherlock Holmes series and is set before the events of The Final Problem. At Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes is approached by a man called Dr Mortimer who then asks Holmes to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles died at his family estate in Dartmoor. The death was attributed to a heart attack but Mortimer is deeply suspicious. Sir Charles died with an expression of terror on his face and Mortimer noticed huge canine prints in the vicinity. Sir Charles had also been greatly troubled by the Baskerville family curse in the months leading up to his death. During the time of the English Civil War, Sir Charles' ancestor Hugo Baskerville supposedly sold his soul to the devil and was then killed by a giant spectral hound. The family has been believed to be under a curse ever since and Mortimer now fears that Sir Henry Baskerville (Sir Charles' Canadian nephew and heir) might be at risk. Intrigued, Holmes and John Watson go to meet up with Sir Henry who has recently arrived in London. Sir Henry has received a threatening letter but is still fully intent on claiming his property. Unable to leave London for the time being, Holmes asks Watson to accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall and to protect him should the need arise. Even without Holmes, Watson soon notices that something bizarre is going on at the estate. There's an escaped convict on the loose, secretive servants, odd neighbours, a sinister mire, and the sounds of a dog howling in the night...

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous story in the entire Sherlock Holmes canon - and for good reason! This book was my first Sherlock Holmes story and even now it's probably still my favourite :) Unlike A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four this book doesn't give the villain a lengthy and tedious backstory and it has a wonderful gothic atmosphere! At this moment in time I've only read the first 2/3 of the Sherlock Holmes canon but, judging from the stories that I have read, I'd say that only The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches come close to capturing the level of suspense and creepiness of this novel. In excellent descriptive passages, Doyle manages to make Dartmoor seem like a truly eerie and dangerous place. Doyle is criminally underrated as a writer, I tell you!


Some Sherlock Holmes fans actually dislike the fact that Holmes is technically absent for about half the novel but I'm not one of them. Holmes still has a presence in the story and personally I love the fact that Watson gets the chance to step into the limelight for a change! The book reinforces how determined, loyal and brave Watson is and he gets a lot to do. He spends a great deal of time interviewing people and gathering clues for Holmes in this one and he even manages to solve a subplot all by himself! The Hound of the Baskervilles is a fantastic story for him!

Finally, another reason why I love this book so much is because of its wonderfully eccentric and memorable Dartmoor characters. There's Dr Mortimer with his obsession with phrenology, Mr Frankland and his love of lawsuits, Mr Stapleton's interest in butterflies... and the villain in this book is awesome too! Definitely one of the cleverest and most formidable in the canon!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a brilliant book and I know for a fact that it makes a superb introduction to the Sherlock Holmes canon. I first read this one when I was about 12. Even though I didn't love this book anywhere near as much then as I do now the story still stayed with me and I'm convinced that I owe a big part of my love of Gothic literature and mysteries to it :)

Rating: 5/5


Hamlette said...

This was also my first Sherlock Holmes story, and is also still my favorite :-) I recently acquired a copy of the same edition I first read, which thrilled me to no end. I was probably 13 or so when I first got it from the library, so frightened by the illustration of a slavering hound inside that I paperclipped a couple of pages together so I could read on undaunted. Well, less daunted, anyway.

I love that Holmes is a little in the background for this story! First, because we get lots of Watson being heroic, but also because when Holmes does reappear, we appreciate him so much for having missed him a while.

Hannah said...

Yes, I can't see this one ever being knocked down from its position as my no. 1 favourite. There's a fierce battle in my head when it comes to the other stories in my top five though and I fear that it's only going to get worse when I eventually finish off the canon :D

EXACTLY! The fact that Holmes is absent for much of this story only makes me appreciate Holmes and Watson all the more! Thank you!