Friday, December 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'

The Book: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, Book 5)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: Reading the canon in order.

The Review: The current owner of Baskerville Hall, Sir Charles, has been found dead on the property, and it appears he died of fright. There is only one heir to the property left, Sir Henry, and Dr. Mortimer, Sir Charles' doctor, wants to make sure nothing will happen to him. He travels to see Holmes and Watson, seeking their opinion of the death.

A legend exists of a hellhound that haunts Baskerville Hall, one who ripped out the throat of Sir Hugo Baskerville two hundred years earlier, and who now appears to have frightened Sir Charles to death. When Sir Henry arrives in London and receives a cryptic warning to stay away from the moors by Baskerville Hall, the decision is made: Watson will go to Baskerville Hall to keep an eye on Sir Henry, and Holmes will stay behind in London, relying on Watson's reports. Watson is left on his own to discover just what is behind the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I have to say, though I know this one is a classic and considered one of the best of the Holmes canon, it fell a bit short of what I was expecting. I have a bit of an idea why that was--though I love Watson and find him an engaging narrator, the story just wasn't flowing as well without Holmes. At least, that was how it was for me. We see comparatively little of him here, and some parts of the story just dragged for me. Watson's a dear, but it's better for us all when Holmes is around, too.

Other than that complaint, though, I did like the plot. We've got everything--cut up newspapers making cryptic warnings, a fiery hound that shouldn't exist but somehow does, the mysterious and deadly moors, the shifty servants. All the elements were there; it was just the execution that felt a little weak to me. I did love the eventual reveal of the hound and what the scheme was; I've somehow managed to make it through twenty years of my life without being spoiled on this one, so it felt like an accomplishment to me!

It was nice seeing two familiar faces get more screentime and development. We see Watson on his own for an extended period of time, using some little bits of deduction picked up from Holmes and some of his combat skills from the army. (Watson also gets to be truly kickass. Of the hound, he writes: "If he was vulnerable he was mortal, and if we could wound him we could kill him.") We also get to see more of Inspector Lestrade, and, like Watson, he's not the bumbling idiot most portrayals show him to be. He joins the hunt for the hound and Holmes considers him to be one of the best professionals. It's nice to read the original stories and see the characters how they were meant to be, not the bastardized versions pop culture makes them into.

My minor complaint about the lack of Holmes and the resulting plot drags aside, this one is very enjoyable and rightly a classic of the detective genre. Holmes scorns supernatural explanations for mysteries and does everything he can to prove that this isn't one. (This is one reason why I think monster mashups, which I love for other authors, really wouldn't work with Holmes, but it hasn't stopped people from trying their damnedest.) I'm almost curious to see film versions of this, to see it any of them get it right, and I'm very much looking forward to the next season of Sherlock, as Steven Moffat, the writer, has said that they're taking it on. Recommended to those who want a classic mystery or adventure, and it could be used as a starting point for the canon (despite being halfway through) if one were so inclined.

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