Jul 14, 2007

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It tells the story of the intriguing death of Charles Baskerville, who was found death with no physical injuries, but with an expression of extreme terror upon his face. According to legend, due to the actions of one Hugo Baskerville, a terrible curse was put on the family. A fearsome hellish hound would forever pursue the Baskervilles, and indeed many members of the family meet unfortunate and mysterious deaths. After the death of Charles Baskerville, the one remaining heir of the estate, Sir Henry, returns from Canada. It is the job of Sherlock Homes and of Dr. Watson to shed light on this mystery, and to make sure Sir Henry doesn’t meet the same end.

The use of a legend drew me to this story immediately. In the author’s dedication, Conan Doyle thanks someone named Robinson for the account of an actual West Country legend that inspired him to write this story. I hope to discover the name of the legend, and to read it if I can get a hold of it.

I like the character of Dr. Watson, who narrates the story, better than Sherlock Holmes. This could be because Dr. Watson’s occasional doubts make him seem more human. Holmes is a logical man, and he completely trusts his own powers of reasoning. His goal is to use reason to dispel superstition and the supernatural, and he refers to his methods of investigation as scientific.

I am fond of science myself, but it is interesting to note that the conception of science in this book is very typical of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For example, Dr. Mortimer, a man Holmes and Watson befriend and refer to as a fellow man of science, is an expert in phrenology. Phrenology is, of course, a sad excuse for science, and it was responsible for many unfortunate injustices. However, I did think that his musings had historical interest.

Reading this book made me wonder what kind of man Conan Doyle was. The Sherlock Homes stories certainly seem to endorse logic and science, and yet he was involved in spiritualism and in the Cottingley Fairies affair. But these are, of course, curiosities that aren’t relevant when it comes to the stories themselves.

I must say that the outcome of this story was not very surprising, but I wouldn’t say it was sadly predictable either. The clues are in the book, and the fact that the reader can figure things out on his own is very satisfying. I had enormous fun discovering the identity of the Man on the Tor, for example.

Another thing I loved about this book was how very atmospheric the descriptions were. This excerpt, for example:
The longer one stays here, the more the spirit of the moor sinks into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom, you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but, on the other hand, you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples.
There was something about this description that made me think, for half a second, of how cool a cross-over between Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft would be – until, of course, I remember that this has indeed been done. It is a splendid idea, and I really must read the Shadows Over Baker Street anthology. It would be a perfect choice for the RIP challenge now that I think of it.

This book made me realize that I’m a bigger mystery fan than I took myself for. I’ve always loved stories with elements of mystery (Harry Potter being a perfect example) and yet I am not at all well-acquainted with the genre. I have a feeling that is going to change in the near future.

Other Blog Reviews:
Age 30 - A Year of Books
Here, There and Everywhere
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Words by Annie


  1. I read this book so long ago, that I really don't remember much about it. Except that I loved it then. My grandmother gave me a collection of Sherlock Holmes books for Christmas one year. (She was the only one that really knew me!) I devoured them!

    Maybe I should go back and re-read a couple of the stories!

    Great Review! I do love a good mystery!

  2. I watched one of the movie versions of it this afternoon on AMC. Christopher Plummer and Basil Rathbone, I believe, were in it. It seemed a little campy and overly dramatic and it had been colorized, which completely ruins a movie, but it was still a good story.

    Conan Doyle was an interesting character to say the least.


  3. Great review, Nymeth. And having just read this one, your comments stand out for me more so than if the book was a vague memory.

    The phrenology bit was definitely dating the book. I got a big kick out of that part if only because it seemed to be presented as scientific fact, when, of course, we know it was a passing theory (however erroneous and cruel) at the time. My husband got an earful when I first encountered Mortimer.

  4. This is one that I would enjoy, but never would've even thought to read. I love your eclectic taste in books. I really need to broaden my exposure to books. There are so many books that I've always wanted to read, but they take the back burner to all the fantasy books that I "just have to read right now!" Your blog has been a great influence to step outside of that zone and read some of the others I've been wanting to read for awhile. So thanks for that!

  5. At some point I would like to re-read this, but I am not sure I am that big a fan of mystery novels. I guess there is only one way to find out...!

  6. Stephanie: I've been pondering getting a Complete Sherlock Holmes book. I have no doubt I'd devour it too! The only problem is that those huge books are not much fun to carry around, so I think I'm going for the individual volumes.

    CJ: I've come to realize that there are quite a few movie versions of this book. I'd like to try one one of these days.

    Literary Feline: I got a kick out of that part as well. And yeah, other than the actual theory, the way it was presented seemed to be very typical of that period too - scientists are a bit more cautious these days, and you don't find absolute remarks like that as easily.

    Chris: You're welcome :) I probably wouldn't have read this either if it hadn't been for a combination of factors (Literary Feline's review and an imminent train ride with no book to read). I think I have reading phases - sometimes I read nothing but fantasy for months, at other times I want to branch out and try new things. Challenges are definitely helpful when it comes to that.

    Rhinoa: You might be surprised! I certainly was. I'm not ready to declare mystery my new favourite genre or anything, but a well-crafted mystery sure is fun to read.

  7. Very nice review! I love mysteries, but haven't read any Sherlock Holmes for years. This review whets my appetite for Carl's RIP challenge coming in the fall. I have The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes sitting on my shelf waiting for that challenge to begin.

  8. The science of the times is one of the things I love about books like this as well as steampunk stories set in that time period. The ideas of medicine and science and space during that time period are all so fascinating. I've read a few Sherlock Holmes stories and always enjoyed them. For a new take on Holmes, I suggest reading the first four books in the Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas. I love them. The subsequent ones took a turn I didn't like, but those first four encapsulate a very entertaining story and are well worth a read.

  9. Robin: that is exactly the Sherlock Holmes book I'm thinking of getting next. The Wordsworth edition containing both volumes is very appealing. It would indeed be a great choice for RIP!

    Carl: I also find that fascinating - seeing how the way people think and the things that are hold as true change over time. And thank you for the recommendation!

  10. The first is Good Night, Mr. Holmes and is built around the Sherlock Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia.

  11. ooh - that quote is very cool!

    its also interesting to know how well it is written. i've always fancied reading them but i never thought there'd be much more in them than the tv shows. i feared it would be quite dry, but it appears it is anything but!

    very cool review! thanks.

  12. I have The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as yet unread, but beautifully bound! I liked reading of your endorsement, and need to pick up this classic, especially as I am (trying) to complete the Summer Mystery Challenge. (reviewedbyliz.blogspot.com)It sounds very good from your review.

  13. Carl: Thank you, I will look for them.

    Jean Pierre: I was surprised by the writing - it is not dry at all! The descriptions are very nice, and they create just the right mood.

    Bellezza: I kind of wish I had joined that challenge. I have a lot I want to read this summer, but I've been enjoying my exploration of the genre of mystery a lot. I think you will enjoy this one!


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