This is number two for the mystery/crime category. And I have to say that I enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles much more. It was intriguing, compelling, and managed to keep me turning the pages in a way that Reynolds’ Beachstrip did not. One difference between the two is that I read Doyle’s novel for pleasure and Reynolds’ for work. But I do think that Doyle’s narrative possesses something that Reynolds’ did not: compelling character.
Sherlock Holmes is an arrogant prick. There, I said it. My sympathies lie with Watson who is used by Holmes at various points to test out theories and do the dirty-work. Worst of all, Watson simply forgives Holmes and justifies Holmes’ behavior. The interplay between the two characters is rich and full of interesting asides that I could not help but smile at. Doyle clearly had fun writing this book.
The novel itself is your standard detective piece: a sensational crime has been committed, Holmes hears about it and proceeds to solve it with Watson’s help. Of course, Doyle more or less created this genre, so you cannot dock points for originality. The plot runs such: an elderly wealthy gentleman is mysteriously killed while out on the moor late at night. Local legend has it that a ghostly hound has haunted the family for several generations, but Holmes won’t hear it. Watson is sent off to do some groundwork and protect the heir to the fortune, Sir Henry, and calamity ensues. The novel is not simply a straightforward narrative but has sections of Watson’s letters to Holmes, bits of Watson’s diary, traditional narration, and, of course, a final reveal at the end. This changing narrative voice helped to keep my interest in the story while also giving Doyle different ways of dropping in hints and clues along with a number of false leads to keep readers guessing. The tell-all at the novel’s end is what bothered me as Holmes makes it clear that he had everything solved and Watson only confirmed what he already believed. I did not quite buy it, but Holmes’ bravado is certainly a hallmark of the series. I can’t claim to have solved the crime by the time Holmes starts revealing it, but I did have suspicions. In a way, I was surprised at how early Doyle revealed who did it. I expected some kind of twist (which did come albeit in an unexpected form), but was pleasantly surprised when it did not come. It would have seemed unfair in some way (the deus ex machina problem of mystery novels – bad ones have a criminal who is not introduced early on).
Overall, I would say that Doyle’s book has done a much better job selling me on the genre of detective/crime fiction. I am looking forward to the next one rather than dreading it. A sidenote: the version cited below has Michael Kenna’s photos with it that came in some sort of limited edition of the book. They are all of the English moor and have the accompanying fog/gloom/melancholy that Doyle seeks to evoke. I am not sure they added anything to the novel, but they might be worth a glance if you are not familiar with what the moor looks like.
I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in detective fiction. If you aren’t, then it probably isn’t the best read.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles. 1902. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986. Print