Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes has been on my to-read list for a little while now. Although it’s more of a revisit, than a first time read, it’s been long enough for me to bring fresh eyes to it, and it really was like a new experience. The Hound of the Baskervilles was the perfect book for this, and when it came up on the docket for the Reading to Know Book Club, it was an excellent incentive to do it now, instead of at some unknown future date.

Poor Sherlock is one of the most argued-about, obsessed-on, fan-fictioned, re-done literary characters of all time. Unfortunately, because of all the Sherlocks out the in the media now, it’s a bit difficult to formulate your own mental perception of the original, “real,” one-and-only Sherlock Holmes as Doyle intended him. As hard as I tried, my own mental image of Sherlock (both his personality and appearance) ended up being a bit of an amalgamation of two different modern Sherlock “spins.” (The Mentalist, which is actually not a real Sherlock, but inspired-by, and BBC’s Sherlock.) I suppose that can’t be helped, but it still felt like my own personal Sherlock, which is all I could have hoped for. And again, for trying to create my “personal” Sherlock, this book was perfect.

“The most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles features the phantom dog of Dartmoor, which, according to an ancient legend has haunted the Baskervilles for generations. When Sir Charles Baskerville dies suddenly of a heart attack on the grounds of the family’s estate, the locals are convinced that the spectral hound is responsible, and Holmes is called in.”
Now, in the beginning I was a little disappointed because even though “Holmes is called in,” he does not at first answer that call personally. He instead chooses to send Watson ahead of him to watch over Sir Charles’ heir to the great estate. Watson’s journals and letters accounting the goings-on in Dartmoor take up the middle third of The Hound. But once I managed to stop sulking about Sherlock’s absence, I enjoyed it very much. The first-person telling of the mysterious happenings added to the suspense, and in the long run I really didn’t miss Sherlock too much. But from the moment he decides he is ready to step in, action takes over.

While I didn’t find this book scary or even creepy exactly, it was certainly interesting enough to keep me thoroughly glued to it. From a roaming murderous convict, to a servant haunting the halls at night, to the devil-dog itself, there was plenty to hold my attention. And really all I ask from books like these is that I don’t want to see “it” coming. “It” being any of the plot twists, great surprises, shock-and-awe moments, etc. Even if I sense them creeping up on me, I don’t want to know what is going to happen, and unfortunately I have an uncanny knack of always figuring it out before I want to, even if I’m deliberately trying NOT to. In this book, among the four or five different plot twists and solutions I only had one figured out, and that one wasn’t even terribly important.

Growing up in a family that voraciously consumes mysteries and whodunits, this was exactly up my alley. Growing up with a personal love for the vaguely macabre, chilling and “creepifying”, this didn’t meet my standards for a “scary story,” but it did appeal to the side of me that loves gothic-type stories, with all their windy moors and palpable tension. If you’re hesitant to go near books that might be a bit too dark and frightening, I would say this one is most likely mild enough that it’s worth a try. The tension is not overwhelming, just gripping. And the pure mystery of everything seems to keep it from getting to heavy. If you’re as odd as I am, save it for a dark and windy night after everyone else has gone to sleep, and embrace the darkness of Dartmoor.

Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him.

Yet we may shelter ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence, which would not for ever punish the innocence beyond that third or fourth generation which is threatened in Holy Writ. To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.

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