Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Atmospheric mystery perfect for October
Cons: Holmes comes across as arrogant early in the book
The Bottom Line:
Gothic mystery
Involving murderous hound
Stands up as classic




Spooky Holmes Mystery

It’s almost embarrassing for this mystery reader to admit it, but I know almost nothing about the original Sherlock Holmes stories.  For example, I’ve read a couple of the short stories, but that was back in Jr. High, and I’ve never read any of the novels.  I changed that this month with The Hound of the Baskervilles, an appropriate spooky tale for Halloween.

In the country in the southern part of England, there is a family cursed for all time by the actions of one of their ancestors.  This ancestor, so the legend goes, was attacked by a hound, a hound that haunts the family to this day.  No one pays any attention to this legend until the current member of the Baskerville family dies.  He had a weak heart, but there is evidence that suggests his heart might have had help along the way to his death.

The family doctor comes into London and presents Holmes and Watson with the facts of the case.  He is also there to welcome the new Baskerville heir, who has been living in Canada.  Almost as soon as he arrives, this heir is given a warning note that his life in in danger.  Is the hound real?  If not, can Holmes figure out what is happening?

I actually started this book not really knowing much more than the title, but I soon found myself drawn into the story.  The events are mysterious and, when we arrive at Baskerville Hall, there is an almost gothic air that I wasn’t expecting.  The tension and chills build toward a great climax, and all the plot points are resolved by the end.

Since this is really my introduction to the real Sherlock Holmes, I was surprised to find that I didn’t like him at first.  He comes across in the beginning as an arrogant know-it-all.  Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten used to his super observant behavior in the other, more modern detectives who have been fashioned on him over the years, but it felt a bit like a parlor trick, especially early in the book where he is constantly pulling that out of his pocket.  I think the abundance of that in the beginning is what really did it for me.  If the same number of scenes had been spread out over the course of the novel, it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much.

Fortunately, Holmes is actually absent for a portion of the story, and Watson is doing his best to gather clues on his own.  This allowed me to truly get to know Watson, and I really like him.  Likewise, the rest of the cast are strong characters, and I grew to like most of them.  When Holmes comes back into the story, I felt he was more toned down and I liked him as well, probably because we are building toward the climax, and as a result Holmes isn’t showing off as much.

Of course, part of my problem might have been the audio version I listened to.  David Case is the narrator (there are so many audio versions of this book out there), and I had a bit of a hard time getting into the book because of his narration.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but as I got used to his narrating style, I wasn’t as put off by it.  I do think some of my view of Holmes is colored by his performance.  I do wonder what I would think if I had read it myself or had someone else as the narrator.

Complaints about Holmes aside, I did enjoy The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I can see why Holmes is such a landmark character in the mystery genre, and I do feel the need to read more of these tales.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I am read this as part of the Reading to Know Classics Book Club, hosted by Reading to Know.

8 comments:

  1. In my opinion HOUND is clearly the best of the novels. The others all feature lengthy flashback sequences that don't feature Holmes or Watson. But the many short stories are excellent overall.

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    1. I can see why long flashback portions would be annoying. I'll keep that in mind when looking at further Holmes books.

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  2. I reread Hounds recently and thoroughly enjoyed it, which isn't often the case for me revisiting fiction I've read in my youth. With so many writers doing Holmesian pastiches these days I've decided to go back and revisit the originals before tackling the imitators.

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    1. I've actually read some of the recent takes on Holmes, but this is my first with any of the original novels, so I guess you could say I'm going about it backwards.

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  3. Hound is the best of the novels and Holmes is often too big for his britches, but some of the short stories are actually quite funny. Not all of them involve murder. Once or twice Holmes lets the bad guy off. Hope you enjoy if you get the chance to read them.

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    1. That definitely makes the short stories sound interesting. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who can find Holmes a bit too arrogant.

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  4. The rule of thumb is to always read the source material before reading revisions and interpretations. You've now read the only one of the novels worth bothering with. I also reread it in September and found it enjoyable. Now it's the short stories, the real meat of Doyle's famous detective, and that's where the character presents, whether you enjoy him or not, that's where you'll find the man.

    I also strongly suggest you read the stories, rather than listen to them. I have the audio of the complete works, but find them less accessible than reading, as the voice(s) for characters can be quite distracting to me.

    I'm glad you have got around to reading this classic novel, and I hope you'll proceed with at least some of the stories.

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    1. I've got a book with quite a few stories around my place somewhere. I'll have to dig it out and read it.

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