I was sure I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles at some time in the distant past but there it sat on the library shelf waiting for me to reacquaint myself with Holmes and hounds. It turns out I read a lot about the book but not the book itself so I had the uncommon pleasure of spending an afternoon with Sherlock and co. engaged in discovering the details of plot for the first time.
Hound is so quintessentially Sherlock Holmes that it is like a well-made bed. Every corner is tucked in perfectly, every wrinkle exposed and smoothed to satisfying perfection. From the moment country doctor James Mortimer reclaims his walking stick and reveals the curse of the Baskervilles to the hour when the impenetrable fog descends on the moor, we are happily carried along by Arthur Conan Doyle’s clever twists and turns to the end of the tale. The heirs to the Baskerville estate seem doomed to fall under the spell of evil karma earned by an especially unsavory ancestor. But death in the remote corner of Devon, in the forbidding landscape prowled by a horrifying beast, is not as straightforward as it seems.
Malevolent characters lurk in the gloom. Weird, haunting cries travel across the moors at night. Strange warnings place everyone in harm’s way. Suspects are introduced, look blatantly guilty and then fall off the list as Holmes and his faithful eyes and ears, Dr. Watson, prowl and pry into everyone’s business. People are messy. Holmes is fastidious and attentive. He always wins—well, at least in this book we have no doubt.
The wild and lonely moor with its abandoned prehistoric stone huts, perilous quicksand, mysterious lights and hidden dangers may house a phantom or a monster. Holmes is sure of what he seeks before he ever arrives on the scene but we can’t know. What is real in the fogs, mists and treachery? Who is evil? Who is not to be trusted but not entirely black at heart? Who is lying and how does Holmes know? His Mensa-like acuity at puzzles is as appealing as his unshakable self-confidence and unapologetic arrogance. He’s a very entertaining gumshoe and it’s sport to spend the book trying to outguess him. I do love a good murder mystery, antidote to too much ambiguity, too many threads ungathered, too much badness unpunished in real life. Sherlock Holmes would probably be very irritating to know but he is agreeable and amusing to spend time with in the pages of a book.
The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | Signet Classics 2001