Monday, July 6th, 2009

The Hounds of the Baskervilles: Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a review for my Project 100: Fill in the Gaps project.

The plot (from Wikipedia).

The rich landowner Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the park of his manor, surrounded by the moorland of Dartmoor, in the county of Devon. He appears to have died from heart attack, but the victim’s close friend, Dr Mortimer, is convinced that the death was due to a supernatural creature, which haunts the moor in the shape of an enormous hound with blazing eyes and jaws. Fearing for the safety of Baskerville’s heir, his nephew Sir Henry, coming to London from Canada, Dr Mortimer appeals for help from Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the first thing I’ve read by Arthur Conan Doyle. I expected not to like this (very short) book for at least two reasons: 1) I usually don’t like to read mysteries, and 2) the antiquated style of writing was certain to turn me off. However, I enjoyed the tale so much that I believe I’ll be adding Arthur Conan Doyle to my reading list.

It’s funny that I don’t like to read mysteries. As a pre-teen I devoured those one-minute mystery books for kids…couldn’t get enough of them. Adult mysteries have usually felt contrived, and I lack the patience to figure out what is a clue and what is not. The Hound didn’t feel contrived at all to me…and when clues were slung in my direction, I knew it (even if I couldn’t figure out what they meant at the time). But knowing what they were increased my enjoyment of the story, because I could noodle over their significance at odd times – like when cooking dinner.

The first page or two of writing caused me some consternation. Doyle employs several, “As you know, Bobs,” (See the Turkey City Lexicon) in the opening dialogue which is openly contrived in order to deliver some necessary information. Beyond that, the writing smooths out, and although a bit wordy (IMHO), it includes many elegant passages.

Interestingly, the book begins in Dr. Watson’s point of view, and then changes to a letter format when Watson and Holmes split up (Watson to Devonshire, Holmes to remain in London). The letters are from Watson to Holmes – so still in his POV. There is also an instance of an “excerpt from Watson’s Diary” used to tell the tale. The style reverts back to Watson’s POV once Holmes joins him in Devonshire.

All of the loose ends are tidied up in meticulous detail via conversation of Watson and Holmes in the last chapter entitled, “A Retrospection.” The clues are explained and a tremendous amount of the back story is filled in by Holmes. For me, this was the hardest part of the book to read: it starts out with a long-winded description by Watson of why so much time has passed since the end of the case and now, when he and Holmes were discussing it. Per Watson, Holmes has solved two other cases in between. Why this is important – other than to show a passage of time (which I can’t figure out the importance of) – I don’t know. Further, Holmes’s dialogue is bloated in order to squeeze in as much detail as possible. I’m not sure this would work in a modern-day mystery.

Nonetheless, I found it to be an enjoyable read overall.


4 comments to The Hounds of the Baskervilles: Arthur Conan Doyle

  • i agree, the “Retrospection” chapter was a bit of a turnoff to me. it was long and drawn out, and also revealed very little that hadn’t already been revealed elsewhere.

    also, am i totally suspicious and destroyed by modern plot twists? i knew the man on the moor was holmes. like, instantly.

    i do agree that although i have NEVER been a mystery reader (as a rule!) it was neat to see conventions being born here with this novel. definitely totally worthwhile!

    • Moonrat: I totally didn’t know the man on the moor was Holmes! I suspected it, but then came Watson’s description: “As far as I could judge, the figure was that of a tall, thin man…he was a much taller man [than the convict].” I didn’t get the impression that Holmes was tall… Doyle had ample opportunity for comparisons to Dr. Mortimer (“He was a very tall, thin man…”) in which to make known that Holmes was a tall man, but I didn’t get it. On the other hand, I wasn’t too surprised when the man on the moor was revealed as Holmes.

  • I know what you mean about the wordiness – it’s a little bit Dan Brown really 🙂 I am a massive Sherlock Holmes geek, but I definitely prefer the short stories I think.

    • Briony: Dan Brown is wordy? I need to go back and re-read… But on the topic of Holmes, I’m hooked! My copy of The Hound  is actually part of a great big compendium with lots of short stories and a few more of his longer works. I’m looking forward to devouring it.

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