"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four detective novels starring the infamous Sherlock Holmes and was originally published as a serial in ‘The Strand Magazine’ from August 1901 - April 1902.

Sir Charles Baskerville has been found murdered in the Baskerville family home in Devon, and the prime suspect behind his grisly death is a legendary spectral hell-hound that supposedly haunts the moors surrounding the Baskerville residence after an ancient curse was put on the family. Fully occupied with a different case in London, full time sceptic and arch-rationalist Sherlock Holmes sends Dr. John Watson down to the spooky moors of Devon in his stead to puzzle out the real culprit behind Charles’ murder before his heir - Henry Baskerville - meets the same gruesome fate.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is told through the eyes of Watson rather than Holmes, and focuses on his thought processes more so than the detective’s; since Hound is my first Holmes novel, I was not expecting this perspective, but it worked very well. The characterisation is strong; Holmes in particular is a very compelling and entertaining character - he is highly charismatic, brilliantly intelligent and eccentric as well harbouring numerous flaws. Holmes’ character is a good contrast to the subdued and ordinary - though certainly capable and brave - character of Watson.  

What struck me the most upon reading Hound was Doyle’s immense skill in creating a spooky atmosphere; his writing drew me in and I could really imagine the misty English moors and the terrifying Great Grimpen Mire which claims the lives of those who venture too deep into it. The sense of isolation, mystery, bewilderment and fear were intense and made for an exciting, absorbing tale.

The Hound itself capitalises on the creepy atmosphere of the novel; drafted from the ghostly black barghest of British folklore, it bears similarities to ‘the Grim’ in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, although it is a much more foreboding enemy in this supernatural-horror mystery.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a classic, and for good reason. The characters are fabulously constructed, the writing is beautiful and absorbing, the setting is ominous with its misty, dark moors containing a ghostly giant black dog and mysterious figures silhouetted in the foggy moonlight, the threat of danger is constantly looming and it maintains a quick pace which keeps the story eventful and exciting. It might be a little predictable, but that’s about the only complaint I can make, and it was a very enjoyable short read.  

Rating: 8/10

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