The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)

by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles remains the most popular Sherlock Holmes story. It is a hair-raising tale, with the possibility that the murderer is a supernatural beast wandering a desolate moor and bringing grisly deaths to the heirs of the Baskerville family.

Sir Charles Baskerville was the latest victim, found dead on his Devonshire estate near the gate to the moor. Sir Charles's friend and neighbor, Dr. John Mortimer, doesn't want to believe in supernatural agents but is concerned about the safety of the remaining Baskerville, Sir Charles's nephew, who is soon to arrive from America to claim the inheritance. Mortimer enlists the help of the famous Sherlock Holmes, who dispatches sidekick Dr. John Watson to Baskerville Hall to keep guard over Sir Henry Baskerville and do some detecting, about which he keeps Holmes informed. 

Holmes is absent for several chapters while Watson admirably fills in. These chapters sans Holmes, with Watson the narrator as usual, are slow moving and melodramatic, creating an ever-growing anxiety about impending disaster on the moor. But which of the few inhabitants might be a villain: The Baskerville butler and his weepy wife, who are keeping a secret? An enigmatic naturalist and his sister, with whom Sir Henry is falling in love? An escaped convict in the area?

Holmes reappears as the action accelerates, bringing on a final resolution that satisfies his requirements for rationality yet does not put down to mere superstition the locals' belief in a demon dog.

Arthur Conan Doyle, who had trained as a physician, researched the setting for this novel while working as a general practitioner in Devon. The Hound of the Baskerville is the only one of Doyle's four detective novels that is completely concerned with Holmes and Watson. Most of the famous pair's exploits are in short stories. When Doyle introduced the character Sherlock Holmes to the Victorian reading public in magazine short stories, Holmes was huge hit, as he continues to be today.


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