The Hound of the Baskervilles opens with the story of an ancient, aristocratic Devonshire family haunted by a mythic hound, continually hell-bent on avenging an injustice committed by a Lord Baskerville many generations ago. Sherlock Holmes investigates the recent death of the latest Lord, and threats made to the next Baskerville heir. Holmes is not a man for superstition. Scientific in his approach to crime solving, he does not take kindly to supernatural hounds stalking around Devonshire seeking vengeance for past wrongs.
I had no trouble seeing that you could easily poke fun at The Hound of the Baskervilles. While there is great descriptive writing, the dialogue is stiff, with little variation between voices. The main characters, whether they are upper class Englishmen, women or Americans, all sound like upper class Englishmen. Characters of the lower classes are incapable of doing anything helpful without a half sovereign to persuade them towards correct behaviour. Holmes puffs hopelessly on his appalling shag tobacco, while somehow remaining a finely tuned physical specimen, ready to run any villain to ground and administer a sound thrashing.
Beyond all that, however, The Hound of the Baskervilles is actually a fascinating study of science. So bear with me and let’s investigate.
The scientific method involves isolating a limited number of variables, while keeping everything else the same. That way you work out the effect of those few factors you have isolated. This is what Holmes does. He creates the limits of a controlled experiment. He begins to investigate the Baskerville case from his Baker Street office in London, laying in a large quantity of the strongest shag tobacco. Shutting himself away from the countless variables of the city, he concentrates his mind on the few facts of his case. The resulting smoky, poisonous atmosphere in his room disgusts Holmes’s assistant, Dr. Watson. Watson tries unsuccessfully to persuade Holmes to leave a window open. The great detective, however, works by closing windows. He looks forward to moving the scene of his investigation from London to Dartmoor. There, instead of a city full of variables, he enjoys the prospect of concentrating his investigation on the few inhabitants of Dartmoor living close to Baskerville Hall. This is a characteristic set-up for detective fiction: think of Agatha Christie’s train marooned by snow in Murder on the Orient Express. Holmes is undeniably successful in his forensic studies, but the story of his investigation also suggests that life refuses to see itself as a few isolated factors. Life is like London, a teeming mass of interrelationships. Holmes’ smoke-filled Baker Street room does not suggest the clear light of truth and neither doers Dartmoor. Fog is a defining feature of both.
This is what I liked about The Hound of the Baskervilles. This is crime fiction saying that science isn’t the only way to find out about life.
Crime fiction at its best, I have read this book at least 3 times over the years it draws you in and you feel the tension. It was written a long time ago but is still fresh and vibrant I would recommend this to anyone of any age , as I read I still picture basil rathbone as sherlock.
This was first printed in book form in 1902 after it had been serialised in The Strand Magazine. This has always been very popular ever since it’s first publication and has remained so up to this day, where many people believe it to be quite correctly, one of the best of the Holmes tales.
By the time that Conan Doyle started work on this he had already killed Holmes off in the tale ‘The Final Problem’ where it appears that both Holmes and Moriarty have plunged to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls. Absolutely fed up with his famous detective Doyle wanted to move away from him, but as he supported a large extended family where he helped out cousins and in at least one case financed a business venture for a family member, as well as having an ill wife he needed money. This tale therefore takes place before Holmes was apparently killed.
The actual basis of this tale does include a Devonshire family legend and at least one folk myth from Devon so this does help set this story in the right place as it were. I should think that most people know this tale although for those who don’t this involves a supposed family curse whereby a giant hound, seemingly from Hell itself is known to kill members of the Baskerville family. As the latest heir to the estate is making his way from North America so Holmes is called in to help offer advice and protection.
This is told to us by Dr Watson as is the norm, but also not only in a direct narrative but also in letter and journal form, this is to perhaps give this a more intense feel. With a clever fiend for Holmes to tackle this also has red herrings and other events going on at the same time to try and confound you in getting the solution to this. With the background provided by Dartmoor this has some gothic undertones and is probably the best Holmes book when it comes to creating a very strong atmosphere and setting, all of which is used to advantage here. In all this has proved popular with many people throughout the world and if you haven’t read this before you are in for a treat.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of only four full-length Sherlock Holmes novels that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle produced in his lifetime, and while many consider it to be his best and while it's the most well-known of all of his works, I just can't rate it as highly as the others.
Sure, it's incredibly well-written, and it's still receiving a high rating - it's just that A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Valley of Fear all have a certain something special about them. Perhaps it's Conan Doyle's masterful use of a literary technique in which the first half of the story is dedicated to the mystery, and the second half is dedicated to the events that led up to the mystery in the first place.
Saying that, The Hound of the Baskervilles is still an excellent read and I'm glad that it serves as a gateway for many readers, who go on to read further Sherlock Holmes books and even Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger series. I don't want to discourage you from reading this - just read more Conan Doyle afterwards.
Published in 1901 (in an effort to placate Holmes fans clamouring for more Holmes stories between killing off his fictional hero in 1893 and restoring him in 1903) and set in the late 1880s, The Hound Of the Baskervilles changed from an effort to placate fans into one of Doyle's most famous books, and probably the best know Holmes story. It was so successful that Doyle was forced to resurrect Holmes 2 years later. It has endured, and is as readable and enjoyable today as it was then. Mixing Doyle's interests in the arcane and his rationalism, he first writes an atmospheric and downright spooky supernatural tale with the set up for the curse of the Baskervilles, then a thrilling tale of murder and greed as Holmes is brought in to investigate the recent death of a Baskerville that might be related to the curse and brings his rationalism to bear to expose a very human plot. Of the Holmes stories it is one of the best written and enthralling. It's a perfect read, 5 stars.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle 5 stars
When a visitor leaves a walking stick behind, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson ponder on who their unseen caller might be. As usual, Holmes is able to describe the visitor in great detail, remarking on the man's profession, his pet dog, his age, poor memory and even where he might live and work. When the owner of the stick returns to collect it, Holmes is of course proved correct. The man introduces himself as Dr Mortimer and confirms that he recently moved from a post in a London hospital to one in Devonshire. His new post however, has brought him into contact with an ancient family curse, detailing a gruesome and murderous legend.
Sherlock Holmes is initially not impressed and waves Doctor Mortimer’s tale aside as only being of interest to "a collector of fairytales". However, his interest grows when Mortimer reveals details of the recent death at Baskerville Hall of its owner, Sir Charles Baskerville. Mortimer is convinced that the Baronet's death cannot be due to natural causes and mentions the footprints found near the dead man's body. Holmes is still not convinced, until Mortimer utters those immortal words:
"Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."
If Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing career had gone the way he expected, we might never have heard of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. Doyle wanted to leave his famous detective behind and move on to other novels (such as the Professor Challenger series), but the popularity of Sherlock Holmes got the better of him. The ‘death’ of the great detective at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (under the magnificent backdrop of the Reichenbach Falls), was a step too far for Holmes’ fans and Doyle eventually succumbed to public opinion. Finding a way to reinstate his illustrious hero however, took a little longer - Holmes eventually returned in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’. In the meantime Doyle penned one of his most thrilling tales. Set before the events in ‘The Final Problem’ Doyle pits his hero against an unusual foe.
This classic tale of murder, mystery and spectral hounds on the sinister and ominous moors will keep you reading till its thrilling climax.