Saturday, October 16, 2010
Book of the Month
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
One of the best known and mysterious Sherlock Holmes adventures is a perfect scary pick for the month of October. I have read this story many times and it never fails to entertain and scare me. Almost all of the Holmes stories are rooted in realism, but this one has an element of the supernatural that sets it apart and makes it a more foreboding tale. It is also different from other Holmes stories because in it Dr. Watson is the one trying to solve the mystery. It is only at certain points and at the end that we see Holmes' active participation in the case.
The story begins when Holmes and Watson are visited in London by Dr. Mortimer who is distressed by the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville who was found dead on a moor by his home of an apparent heart attack with a large hound's footprints near the body. Mortimer tells the pair of the legend of the Baskervilles which has haunted the family for generations. According to the legend, Hugo Baskerville, an evil man with a sadistic streak, became infatuated with a yeoman's daughter, kidnapped her and imprisoned her in his bedchamber. She managed to escape while he was talking with his friends. A drunken and furious Hugo cried that he would give his body and soul to the Powers of Evil if he could only overtake her. He rode after her onto the moor, his hunting hounds upon her scent and his friends in pursuit. Sometime later his friends came upon the bodies of Hugo and the girl. She had died from fear and fatigue, while a giant spectral hound stood over Sir Hugo's body. With his friends watching, the hound plucked out Hugo's throat and disappeared into the night.
The young heir to the Baskerville family, Henry is due to arrive from Canada any day and it is decided that Watson will return with Henry to Baskerville Hall to investigate. An escaped convict from a nearby prison adds to the feeling of mystery, as more things happen to throw suspicion on Barrymore, the servant, and the Stapletons- a brother and sister who Watson doesn't think look very alike. Holmes stays away to let Watson do the detective work, but arrives at a critical moment to reveal some very important information.
Just like many of the Holmes stories, Conan Doyle pushes the tension to the very end, where there is a complicated, but acceptable explanation which I won't spoil here. Watson proves to be a capable detective in this story, but as always, Holmes is the one who puts all the threads together. This is one of the best and most intriguing mysteries in the Holmes canon, so read it for a good Halloween scare on a dark and stormy night this month.