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Curse on the moors
on January 10, 2009
"Hound of the Baskervilles" is a unique story in the Sherlock Holmes canon -- author Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it in the years between Holmes' death and his resurrection several years later.
But due to public pressure, Doyle brought Holmes and Watson back temporarily for a sort of "memoir" tale, a tale of supernatural curses, escaped convicts and ghastly glowing hounds. It suffers a little from a lack of Holmes, but is otherwise a tightly-written, solid little mystery.
Sir Charles Baskerville was found dead of a heart attack -- apparently killed by a family curse in the shape of a giant dog. So his pal Dr. Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes to protect Charles' heir, Henry Baskerville, who has just arrived in England to claim his estate and inheritance.
But even without Holmes, Watson can tell that something is up -- secretive servants, peculiar neighbors, an escaped criminal, a giant quicksand marsh, and the sounds of a dog howling in the night. But Holmes knows that the curse is no supernatural hound -- and that Sir Henry is in danger from a more real kind of ancient enemy.
"Hound of the Baskervilles" stumbles in one area -- the relative lack of Holmes. He's out of the picture for most of the book, and Watson does plenty of solid detecting on his own. Everybody loves the faithful narrator, but Watson isn't the Great Detective, and the book feels vaguely incomplete without Holmes inspecting clues and giving little hints to Watson.
The mystery unfolds at a languid pace, dropping a few red herrings along the way. Doyle pays loving attention to the dangerous, almost surreal Grimpen Mire and the surrounding countryside. But when Holmes comes back onto the scene, the book tightens itself up. All the plot threads rapidly slip into place as the real "hound" is uncovered.
Holmes' steel-trap mind is untarnished here, especially when he reveals what he figured out at the end. He's especially likable in an endearing scene at the beginning, where he educates Watson on deduction. But this is Watson's turn to shine, since he spends a long time gathering clues and even solving a sub-mystery without any assistance.
"Hound of the Baskervilles" is a short, satisfying Holmesian mystery, which is only hampered by Holmes' absence for about half the book. Solid work, and a good introduction to the Holmes series.