Rose's Reviews > The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
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's review
Feb 10, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: holmes, mysteries, acd
Read from February 10 to 11, 2012

This book rocks.

I always used to wonder why high schools (although not mine, incidentally) often assign "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to their students. Since having read it, however, it's easy to answer my own question: teachers assign it not only because it's the best of the Sherlock Holmes novels (unless "The Valley of Fear" tops it; I haven't gotten to that one yet), but because it's also the first proper modern murder-mystery detective novel.

Which is curious, because Sherlock Holmes is hardly in it.

I found myself reflecting, as I read it, how fortunate it is that I'm such a major Watson groupie. If I hadn't been, Holmes's absence might have been hard to get past! As it was, I had no problem settling into a story wherein Holmes sends a lone Watson, acting as Holmes's agent, to Devonshire and the manor home of the Baskervilles in order to keep an eye on the life and safety of their new client -- Sir Henry Baskerville.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" is more than just a title -- it's one of those phrases you can toss around and have everybody know what you're talking about even if you and the people you're talking to have never read the book. (I referred to one of our next-door neighbor's dogs as "the hound of the Baskervilles" for years before I ever had a clear idea of exactly what the story was about -- I was using the phrase, in fact, before I even knew that this novel was a Sherlock Holmes story!) I knew it had to be referencing a big, enormous, gigantic dog -- and I knew some element of the supernatural was involved. It wasn't until reading the book for the first time that I finally got the whole story: thanks to the soul-selling pronouncements of a particularly cruel (and stupid) ancestor, the Baskerville family is said to have been cursed -- each successive generation who dwells in the manor home eventually succumbing to the supernatural Cerebus who stalks the moor None of this would interest Mr. Sherlock Holmes so much -- as he doesn't put much stock in fairy tales and local fables -- except, oh, by the way, the second-to-last Baskerville who inhabited the house was just found dead with a giant paw-print next to his body; so what's the likelihood of the last heir to the family fortune moving to the moor and getting some peace … or even surviving?

Watson has always served as our eyes and ears in the Holmes stories -- but now he's our protagonist, too, taking center stage throughout the story as he investigates Sir Henry Baskerville's neighbors, the local townspeople, and the odd assortment of clues and complications that appear to baffle the good doctor as thoroughly as they do the reader. Indeed, this was one of those pleasing Holmes mysteries where I hadn't worked out the solution by the middle of the story -- that is, I hadn't figured out the bad guy until Conan Doyle tells us said bad guy's identity.

Watson always makes for a deliciously-engaging narrator, but here he's a fantastic protagonist too. I was paging through an essay by Anne Perry about the novel, and she commented pretty durn accurately on what makes Watson so awesome: he's such an Everyman, albeit an Everyman with a twist. He's a character it's easy for us to relate to: smart (not on a Holmes-level, but on a great common-sense level), determined, and has real *emotions* -- he gets surprised, appalled, scared, and hurt. He's also got a fantastically-good heart, and I think Perry's right when she says that Watson is the Everyman we want to believe in: the sort that leads us to believe that everyone (including ourselves) leans towards the side of real goodness. He's probably a little bit more loyal and forgiving than the average person (okay, a *lot* more loyal and forgiving), but that just makes me like him all the more. And gives us something to aspire to, to boot.

I liked the *atmosphere* in this one. Watson and Holmes are struggling to discover if the force they are fighting is one which is natural or supernatural. ("I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world," says Holmes at one point. "In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task.") Holmes is inclined to lean towards the natural explanation for things, considering the concrete evidence they are continually faced with ("The devil's agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?") -- but that doesn't stop the story from being infused with a tight, downright *spooky* sense of dread that kept me turning pages to see what happened next. Of course, that can also be attributed to the number of little mysteries which cropped up throughout the story, the threads eventually weaving together to tie up neatly in the end. Conan Doyle was at the top of his game with the plotting in this one, and a number of clues and Chekov's Guns mentioned early in the story jumped out in important ways by the conclusion. (Chekov's Guns are one of my all-time favorite literary devises, if not my absolute favorite, so I found such pay-offs particularly delightful.) Perhaps more than any of the stories I've read thus far in the canon, this was the one where I most wanted to see _what would happen next_.

While Sherlock Holmes may not have been physically present in the majority of the novel, he managed to make his presence felt throughout the novel all the same. If the shade of the Hound of the Baskervilles cast and imbued its gloom through the story, then we also got the sense of Holmes and his "agent" Dr. Watson shining their light into the darkest of crevices. There's some grisly and tragic twists to the story, and Holmes & Watson both may or may not make a few mistakes (I don't want to clarify this too much 'cause of spoilers). But you never really doubt our heroes, even in the midst of those mistakes.

This novel was the first Holmes story written after Holmes's apparent demise in the short story "The Final Problem." (Conan Doyle got around the problem of his detective character being dead by setting "Hound" several years before the events of "The Final Problem.") Still technically "deceased" or not, it's wonderful to have Holmes back for another adventure. And it's got my favorite ending paragraph of a Holmes story yet.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Gina (new)

Gina Boyd This is my mom's favorite. I remember reading it when I was 12 or so and wondering why it was all about Watson. I am definitely going to read it again soon, thanks to this ringing endorsement!

Rose Always, always glad to hear people are reading HOUND. This makes me happy. ^______________^

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