Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #952- Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Not having read a lot of mysteries, I don't have a lot to compare to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Which probably explains why it reminded me of Scooby-Doo cartoons.

I don't mean that as an insult per se— it wasn't the quality or lack thereof that reminded me of the gang from the Mystery Machine. It was the blend of mystery and supernatural.

The Hound of the Baskervilles recounts a family curse. Years earlier, a man named Hugo Baskerville supposedly made a pact with the devil that— as deals with the devil are wont to do— backfired. Hugo was said to have been killed by a hellhound, a hellhound that should have gone down in history as a myth, as family folklore, except that tragedy has befallen every Baskerville man since. The scene is set in the Hound of the Baskervilles, with a report that the latest Baskerville has been found dead and giant hound footprints were found nearby his body. Holmes agrees to get involved to help protect the heir to the family estate, Charles, who has just returned to London from Canada.

Only having read a few Sherlock Holmes stories over the years, and watching the last couple of Robert Downey Jr. flicks, I was surprised at the importance of Dr. Watson. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that this is a Watson book, not a Holmes book. Holmes swoops in at the end to fit the pieces together with a long explanation at the end, but it's Watson that runs most of the investigation for the first three quarters of the book. Still Watson never seems to begrudge Holmes. He's loyal to a fault.

Speaking of Holmes' end scene play by play, was this a Doyle convention? Of the few mysteries that I've read, there's always been a long drawn out, somewhat awkward reveal at the end. Normally I find this cheesy, partly because it sticks out as unrealistically convenient dialogue, but also because it's so overdone. However, I have to wonder if it was overdone in Doyle's time. Any readers of classic mysteries want to field that question?

In any case, despite the ending and a plot that was just a wee over the top, it was an entertaining book with amusing characters. I thought the theme of superstitions, greed and fear were compelling enough, even if I kept expecting someone to say, "And I'd have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!"

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