This weekend I felt like I needed to relax with an old favourite book, while curled up on the lounge with a warm fire burning. Sherlock Holmes exactly matched my mood. This one would hands down have to be my favourite Holmes story. I’ve read just about all of them, and generally find that I prefer the short stories over the longer length novels. This one is the exception, the only one of the longer stories that I completely love. Unlike the others, this one always stays focussed on the main story without, for example, breaking into the tedious backstory of life in Utah that turns A Study in Scarlett from an enjoyable mystery to tedious drudge to read. This one is pure pleasure from the start to the finish.
The Hound of the Baskervilles has got some brilliant deductions from Holmes, it has elements of supernatural horror with the fiendish hound, an interesting sub-plot of the escaped convict and for once, Dr Watson actually gets to play an intelligent part in unravelling the mystery. The story is an engaging one and keeps your interest until the end.
Unlike many of the Holmes stories, this one has a strong gothic horror element to it, starting with the grisly end that befell the original cursed Sir Hugo Baskerville (an end he may have fully deserved after kidnapping an innocent young girl and imprisoning her at Baskerville Hall for his pleasure). This gothic feel is helped by some of the descriptions, such as when Watson and Sir Henry first see the moor –
… there rose in the distance a gray, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream. And legend has it that roaming in this gloomy setting is a hell-hound,
a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon.
The hound is part of the family history of the Baskervilles, and the legend is taken seriously by Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles never ventured out on
the moors in those hours of darkness when the powers of evil are exalted. But despite his cares, Sir Charles is found dead one night, his body lying in the Yew Alley on the grounds of Baskerville Hall, close to a gate that opens on to the moors. The footprints of a giant hound were observed near the body, although no marks were found upon him.
The only heir to the estate, Sir Henry Baskerville, is determined to live in his family home, but would he be safer if he stayed away? Can an ancient family curse still exact victims several centuries after initially appearing? Or is there some human hand at play?
After Sir Henry leaves London and travels to Baskerville Hall, the story moves along quickly. Holmes is detained in London by an important case at first, so initially it is Watson who accompanies Sir Henry, and helps with unravelling the mystery. Watson is often the foil to Holmes’ brilliance. In fact, at the beginning of this story, Watson attempts to make deductions about the owner of a walking stick left in their rooms and is initially proud when Holmes describes his efforts:
Really, Watson, you excel yourself,said Holmes, …It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.
But the feelings of pleasure these words gave him don’t last long, when Holmes then adds:
I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth.
This is shattering to Watson’s ego, but very much in keeping with their established relationship over most of the stories. But Watson shines in many instances over the course of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and manages to discover a number of valuable clues, and unearths the secret of the escaped convict.
The climax to the story is truly scary, and gave me chills again on this reading, even though I knew exactly what would be happening and what the outcome would be.
Not only a classic mystery that should be read by all fans of crime fiction, but a really good, scary, well-told story that I think would be enjoyed by most people.