Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

HoundThe Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was written 8 years after The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, in which Holmes supposedly died, but is set before that time. According to Wikipedia, its success prompted Doyle to write more Holmes novels, and it’s rated as one of his best Holmes stories.

It opens in typical fashion with Holmes wowing Watson with various deductions before they’re visited by a client. Dr James Mortimer has traveled to London to ask Holmes’ advice. It seems that the most recent baronet of Baskerville Hall in Devonshire (and Mortimer’s neighbor) , Sir Charles Baskerville, died of extreme fright apparently after being pursued by a large hound. A mysterious, monstrous hound killed one of his ancestors, and this and the ancestor’s evil deeds grew into a legend that the Baskervilles were cursed. Though the hound didn’t attack Sir Charles directly, its nearby footprints seem to give credence to the legend. Dr. Mortimer’s problem is that the new heir is supposed to arrive from Canada, and Mortimer doesn’t know whether it is safe to conduct him to Baskerville Hall. Holmes asks Mortimer to bring the new heir, Sir Henry, to him when he arrives. By the time they meet, though, Sir Henry has received an anonymous warning to avoid the moors at Devonshire, and one of his boots has been stolen. When they leave Holmes’s apartment, he discovers that Sir Henry is being followed. Henry wants to go to his estate despite the weird occurrences and warnings. Holmes is busy with another case but sends Watson to the Hall with Henry and Mortimer to observe, meet the staff and neighbors, and report back to Holmes.

Holmes says early on that there are several strands to the case, and he has to try various ones to find out which will lead him to the truth. His investigation and Watson’s reports put some strands to rest easily, but others cause more excitement and concern. An escaped convict hiding out in the moor complicates the case. When Holmes does arrive in Devonshire he discerns who was responsible for Sir Charles’s death and realizes Sir Henry is in imminent danger himself, but he does not yet have enough concrete evidence to make a case. While he waits to close the net on the perpetrator, will he be too late to prevent yet another crime?

In my venture through the Holmes novels in publication order, I’ve been piecing together his character as a whole and comparing it to some of the modern characterizations and adaptations of him. Most modern portrayals present him as somewhat rude, but I haven’t found him to be so in the novels, as least not yet. He is pretty egotistical, though. In one amusing exchange, he and Watson are disagreeing about their deductions from a certain piece of evidence. Watson eventually concedes by saying, “You may be right.” Holmes responds, “The probability lies in that direction.” Another conversation is perhaps a little more snide:

“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”

He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. I was proud, too, to think that I had so far mastered his system as to apply it in a way which earned his approval….

[After differing over the evidence in question] “I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth.”

Watson’s character continues to emerge as well. Some older film versions portray him as a dumpy old man whose only purpose is a foil for Holmes and a chronicler of his cases: thankfully more modern adaptations show more of his strengths. In this story he is described as “fleet of foot” in a chase scene, and though some of his conclusions are wrong, his observations are helpful. When Holmes sends him with Sir Henry, he says of Watson, “There is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I.” Watson himself confesses, “The promise of adventure had always a fascination for me.”

I listened to the audiobook read very nicely by Derek Jacobi. He not only portrayed the different characters very well, but he incorporated the action into his voice, sounding like he was running when his characters were, etc. I also looked at some passages a little more closely at the Project Gutenberg online version of the text.

I do agree that this is the best Holmes novel I have read/heard so far. Doyle did an admirable job setting the scene for a Gothic-type mystery with the  depressing old house, the mysterious legend, and the dangerous moors, and the plot was adequately suspenseful.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

What’s On Your Nightstand: August 2014

 What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Hard to believe we’re 2/3 through the year already and summer will be over before the next Nightstand. I’m glad to spend some of the passing time with good books.

Since last time I have completed:

Just Jane: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Life by Nancy Moser, reviewed here. Didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, but it is an interesting peek into her life.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay, reviewed here. Loved this!

On Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis, reviewed here. Some excellent observations.

Gospel Meditations for the Hurting by Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak. Didn’t review this as it is just a 31-day devotional. The tone is not what I’d call warm and fuzzy, but the Biblical truths are right on target and helpful.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, audiobook, reviewed here.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, audiobook, reviewed here.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, audiobook. This was a re-listen as I read it in 2008 and listened to the audiobook in 2013. My previous review is here.

I’m currently reading:

Undetected by Dee Henderson. Loving it.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. Excellent.

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen. Enjoyed the first part – not enjoying the middle so much. We’ll see how it ends up.

Next up:

Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck, and David F. Wells. This will finish my TBR Challenge list. I need to get it read and off my every Nightstand TBR section, but I wanted to take a break from my reading challenges with some fiction.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald for Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club. I have been wanting to try MacDonald for some time and this book in particular.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, NEWEST book by Jan Karon! Can’t wait! It’s supposed to come out in early September and I have pre-ordered it.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Last Bride by Beverly Lewis

In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin

I’ve got some good reading to look forward to! How about you?

Book Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a collection of short stories published after the first two novels. All were originally published in magazines. I’m not a great fan of short stories, but it was a nice break to have each case end with the chapter rather than having novel-long plots and twists and characters to keep up with. I enjoyed the audiobook read very nicely by actor Derek Jacobi.

The format of the stories is much the same as the novels. The ones in this volume are not told in chronological order: some occured while Watson still lived with Homes, others occured after Watson married. At the beginning of many of them Watson explained why he chose to chronicle that particular case out of the many Holmes had solved. Though there are similar characteristics in each story, Doyle did an excellent job in keeping them from becoming formulaic and predictable. Some involve the police, some don’t. In a few Holmes let the perpetrator go for various reasons (in one, the man did not have long to live; another involved a young man whom Holmes thought would go right after the scare of almost getting into big trouble). Some involved a crime that had already been done, some involved a crime that had yet to be committed, some involved other mysteries.

This book contains twelve stories: probably the most notable is “A Scandal in Bohemia” for the mention of Irene Adler. Some portrayals of this story of Holmes cast her as a love interest, but in this story she is not that. He admires her wit, which rivals his own, and the fact that she is one of very few people who have ever outsmarted him. In fact, Watson says,

It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.

I thought it interesting, after wondering aloud in my review of The Sign of Four whether a genius in one area has to be unbalanced in others, that Watson says Holmes has a “precise but admirably balanced mind” while explaining that emotions were “abhorrent” to him — which seems a little unbalanced to me. 🙂

I enjoyed more unfolding of Holmes’ personality. Some accounts I’ve read cast him as manic-depressive or autistic, but I think (at least so far) that he was just a classic introvert. He claims Watson as his only actual friend, spends a great deal of time alone and thinking, but can be genial and even soothing when he needs to be. Some modern versions also portray him as rude, but in these first three books I haven’t seen that, at least that I can remember.

I’m glad that more modern versions of Holmes’ stories cast Watson as a strong character rather than a doddering old man who is only along as a sidekick. He is a skilled doctor and apparently handy with a revolver (from his army days) since Holmes asks him to bring it along for particularly dangerous cases.

I’m trying to read the Holmes stories in publication order, and the next is another collection of short stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I may skip ahead to The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I’ve been particularly wanting to get to. I don’t think the reader will lose anything by reading them in any order: I just wanted to partake of them as the general public would have at first in order to see how they unfold. But I’ll put off that decision for a little while in order to take a break from Holmes to participate in the Austen in August challenge.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)