Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.
I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.
In the last of the middle collections of Holmes' short stories, we discovered that Holmes was resurrected from the dead after everyone believed him to be dead (including the author). This collection of short stories re-solidified Sherlock Holmes as the number one literary detective and brought him back to the forefront of mystery fiction.
The next book in the Holmes collection is The Hound of the Baskervilles. This novel is probably the best known Holmes story, and the one that most, if exposed to Sherlock Holmes, have read. It is also the only novel and/or collection of short stories about Holmes that I have read previously!
In fact, I taught this novel to my ninth grade students during my student teaching. It was the first time I ever taught a novel solo and it was quite the experience. I was reading the novel one chapter ahead of my students, so I was figuring out the mystery right before they were. It was a great novel to begin with and I had a lot of fun teaching it. It has been two years since then, so some of the details were a little fuzzy, but came back as I delved deeper into the novel. I definitely remembered why I loved this and a lot of memories of those kids came back to me as I read!
The novel opens with Watson and Holmes at home on Baker Street. The two missed a visitor and are drawing clues from the walking stick the visitor left behind. In this scene, it seems as if Holmes is a little more pompous than usual and I was a little irritated with him. He seemed slightly cocky, and while he is usually a little arrogant and self-assured, it seemed like overkill in this first scene. Anyway, the two are discussing who their visitor might be when he reappears.
The reader is greeted by Dr. Mortimer, a man who is coming to Holmes and Watson in desperation. He lives out on the moors in the country, and a good friend of his by the name of Baskerville died in mysterious circumstances. He relates the details of Baskerville's death, as well as the legend of the Baskervilles-a story about a legendary hound that stalks the moors after a distant relative, Hugo, kidnapped a girl and she ran screaming over the moors in escape. Mortimer tells us that Baskerville was frightened of the hound and believed in the legend!
Holmes seems not to care about the legend, or the story, until he is told that a distant relative, Henry, will be arriving at Baskerville Hall. But before arriving at the Hall, he will be in London. Sherlock Holmes agrees to meet Henry, and thus, the mystery begins.
What is interesting from the beginning of this are the circumstance around old Baskerville's death. These details don't interest Holmes until he is told that a few feet away from the body, large hound prints are seen, but no marks were on the body.
Another thing that makes this interesting is that Holmes refuses to go out to Baskerville Hall, saying that he has things to take care of in London. Instead, he sends Watson alone to accompany Henry. Most of the middle part of the novel are either letters from Watson to Holmes, or excerpts from Watson's diary. It creates an interesting way of looking at the mystery. We only know what Watson knows and many pages go by without word from Sherlock Holmes. That is drastically different than any of the other Holmes stories thus far.
We also get to meet a lot more characters than we do in any of the short stories. These characters offer a lot more for us to think about and are way more developed than the secondary characters in the first two Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four). Doyle really takes his time in this mystery to develop each character and show the reader their background. This leads us on a few false trails as we try and solve the case through Watson.
In particular, Doyle does a great job of creating some wonderful villain type characters. You have the Barrymores, who work in the Hall, as well as a few eccentric neighbors. My personal favorite is Stapleton, a naturalist who chases after butterflies on the moor. When I got to the scene where he goes gallivanting off, I remember trying to act that scene out in front of my ninth graders. There were a lot of laughs.
Anyway, some of the other things I noticed in this novel is the discussion of supernatural v. reality. I also noticed this in the last few short stories I read. You can tell from Holmes' personality that he is a person who truly believes in the facts and what can actually happen. He is not a person who can believe in the supernatural. This is a conversation that I think Doyle really wanted to bring up in this novel in particular-by pointing out that there can be a reasonable and exact solution to almost every problem or issue that may arise.
I also have to commend Watson in this novel. Where is really the fall guy, and serves as a great resource for the reader by asking the dumb questions we want answers to, he manages to carry half the novel by himself with no sign of Holmes. This certainly elevates him up in my book, and makes him much more likable. He is no longer a jester for Holmes, but a person who is trying to solve the mystery on his own (Still, you know who DOES solve it, don't you?).
In all this is another great example of a supreme mystery. And so far, it definitely outshines any of the other stories or novels. Doyle does a much better job of keeping the action going and not summing up the case halfway through. Instead, he maintains a level of suspense and intrigue so that you have to keep reading. It doesn't jolt halfway through like A Study in Scarlet did, or go way off track like The Sign of Four did. We get the story as it happens, which I really prefer.
This is definitely deserving of its reign as the best of the Holmes stories and novels BY FAR. If you just want a taste of the famous detective, this is a great place to start!
Next up is the last Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear!