Sunday, October 12, 2014

Night of Terror #11: 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'

"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:—
"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

Fuck yeah.

This was my second time reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I can safely say it's one of my favorite novels of all time. It adds a layer of spooky atmosphere and downright horror to the usual Sherlock Holmes crime-deduction action, and makes perfect Halloween reading in the process. It's not just an engaging mystery, but an almost proto-paranoid thriller (I don't have to tell you that paranoia wasn't invented until 1921 by a scientist who was convinced that his contemporaries would kill him then release his formula on the world in secret. He was right), with Dr. Watson entangled in a sinister crime after Holmes tells him to accompany their latest client to the Devonshire moors while he stays back in London. That particular mood of mystery that Doyle usually opens and closes in his 20 or 30-page short stories is sustained and enhanced in full-length novel form here, an impressive feat even before you remember the novel was originally a serialized publication.

This is one of the prototypical mystery novels, yet what impressed me the first time and again now is how it doesn't seem shackled by formula the way a lot of whodunits can. Structurally, Holmes reveals the identity of the killer with a good 5 or 6 chapters of action to go, as he, Watson, and Sir Henry Baskerville close their net around the criminal, which is of course much more satisfying than keeping the solution a secret until the very end. Then there's the secondary mystery, regarding whether the titular hound actually exists, and whether Holmes and Watson, the two men of science, will have to confront a supernatural being.

This is also one of the most adapted stories in history, Wikipedia listing over 20 filmed works based on the book. I saw the one with Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh, it was OK.

Feel weird saying this about one of the most beloved works of fiction ever written by man or hound, but you should probably read The Hound of the Baskervilles if you haven't already, preferably with the original Strand magazine illustrations intact. It is good.

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