Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan DoyleSherlock Holmes had already been officially killed off by 1902 - but the public was so loud in wanting to hear more stories about him that Sir Doyle relented and wrote a new story. He set it in a real house this time, based on a real legend. This Holmes tale has been voted by many groups as the best of all Holmes stories. Indeed, there are at least 30 different versions of dramatizations of the story.
What is interesting is that the story isn't a typical puzzle where Holmes works through the clues one by one while you watch. Instead, we get some brief time with Holmes and Watson at the beginning, as they interact with a Doctor. Then Watson goes off with the Doctor and Sir Henry Baskerville, recently come over from Canada. It turns out Henry is now owner of a manor in the Baskervilles. The family has been under a curse involving a large hound. In fact the reason the home is now his is that his relation was apparently slain by such a hound.
So Watson goes along with Sir Henry to keep an eye on things, while Holmes sits home. The entire story is told from Watson's point of view, only of Watson's observations. Instead of watching Holmes work, we get more of a "storytelling" sense here. We hear about the melancholy gloom of the home. We hear often of the quiet loneliness of the moors, with the fog rolling in. It is very much a story of atmosphere, of haunting cries in the night and mysterious faces in the dark.
Without giving away the ending, the key to the puzzle is withheld from the audience meaning we aren't allowed to "solve" the case with Watson or Holmes. This is disappointing - I enjoy mystery stories where I feel I have a chance of reading the clues properly. Also, the key instigator is quite intelligent - but the end aim of these machinations seems rather suspect. In fact, in the story Watson asks Holmes just what the apparent plan was, and Holmes himself says he doesn't quite know. Which is also a bit frustrating.
It is rather refreshing to have a top selling book that doesn't involve sex or drugs, although there is of course violence here. There are at least two murders in the course of the story. But the focus is on the fact of the murder and the seeking of justice - not on gory details of the actual scenes.
At only 100 or so pages, this is well recommended to anyone who enjoys a good story!
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The Publisher's Weekly of 1902 claims that the book had already sold 50,000 copies immediately.
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