Friday, January 1, 2016

Book Review - The Hound of the Baskervilles

My final post for this weird Batman month will be another one that inspired Batman and one of the coolest literary characters of all time: Sherlock Holmes. What’s there to say about the detective? Apparently, there’s a lot but I’ll touch the broad strokes. He was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and first saw print in 1887. He’s been in four novels and a crapload of short stories that were written by Doyle and other later writers. He’s also been featured on radio, TV, film, video games, and stage plays. If you can name the piece of media, he’s probably been there. He’s also been played by a lot of notable actors and they include Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Caine, Ian McKellen, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Baker, and shockingly Charlton Heston.

Batman and Holmes share a lot of things. Their most powerful weapon is their mind. They are both masters at deducting crimes and motivations. They both are really good at disguises and they use forensics to do their detective work. They both are pretty skilled in different forms of combat. Yes, Holmes can get down and fight if he needs to. I think Guy Ritchie’s movies have definitely shown that and a lot more. They also have weird personalities but Holmes is less “darkness, no parents” and more dispassionate, logical, and a little egotistical. The two have actually met in the comics and on TV (Batman: The Brave and the Bold).

I’ve really only been exposed to the character through TV and movies. I tried reading A Study in Scarlet a couple of years ago but I never finished it. A couple of years ago, I picked up The Hound of the Baskervilles at my high school band’s yard sale. It was the third novel Doyle wrote for the character. I haven’t read it until now. I vaguely remember wanting to do this book for a report back in high school. Basically, we had to read it and then give a quick summary of it in front of the class. My teacher said to pick something a little easier. To Mrs. Childers’ credit, I now see why she said that. By the way, I ended up picking up War of the Worlds… not the best idea for a guy who kind of sucked at that public speaking thing.
Told ya they met.

 The Hound of the Baskervilles
Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

BRIEF BLURB: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are asked to help solve the mysterious death of Charles Baskerville. When his nephew, Henry, enters the picture, the two must make sure Henry doesn’t meet the same fate as his uncle.

Dr. James Mortimer comes to Sherlock Holmes at his Baker Street address to ask for help. His friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, died suddenly of a heart attack on his estate in Devonshire.  We find out that Sir Charles was pretty superstitious and believed in a curse on his family that involved a black, big, devilish hound. Mortimer didn’t think much of it until he found a big footprint at the site where his friend died. He also fears for Sir Charles’s nephew, Henry, who is now the owner of the estate. Intrigued, Holmes takes on the case.

Later, Holmes and Watson meet with Mortimer and Henry who had just returned from Canada. While in London, Henry has noticed some personal items being stolen and he received a weird telegram telling him not to come to Baskerville estate. He plans to go anyway in a couple of days. After he and Mortimer leave their meeting, Holmes and Watson notice a man with a beard tracking the two men. Holmes tries to figure out all of this but comes up short in the end. Since he has other business to attend to, he sends Watson with Henry and Mortimer to keep Henry safe.

Watson, Mortimer, and Henry reach Devonshire and the Baskerville estate. While on their trip, they learn that an escaped convict named Shelden may be in the area. Watson gets a feel for everyone in and around the estate. He meets the Barrymores, long-time servants to the Baskervilles. He also meets Jack Stapleton and his sister, Beryl, who don’t live far from there. Watson does his best to look for anything suspicious and reports all of that to Holmes through letters. He notices that Mrs. Barrymore weeps at night and that Mr. Barrymore acts a little suspicious. He even has a black beard. Henry also starts to fall in love with Beryl Stapleton. This seems to tick off Jack Stapleton for some reason.

Watson and Henry find out that Mrs. Barrymore is the sister to Shelden and that she and her husband have been supplying him with food at night. The two try to apprehend him but fail at it. Watson also notices howling at night and another tall figure standing out in the distance by some old huts. He wonders if it is the same man that tricked them in London. Before he checks that out, he checks out Laura Lyons, a woman who was secretly in contact with Sir Charles before his death. She says she had nothing to do with it and that he was actually helping her with her divorce.

 After this meeting, he checks out the old hut and comes upon… Sherlock Holmes? It turns out that Holmes has been investigating this case all along by secret. He reveals to Watson that Jack and Beryl Stapleton are actually husband and wife instead of siblings! Beryl was also the one who sent the letter to Henry in London. The head back to Mrs. Lyons house and relay this news. It turns out that Jack had asked her to marry her in order to help with the divorce. With everything beginning to come together, Holmes and Watson head to the estate when they hear a scream. They see the hound and think it’s killed Henry. It actually killed Shelden who was wearing Henry’s clothes.

After they relay this news to the Barrymores, the detectives set a trap for Mr. Stapleton by using Henry as bait. They then notice a portrait of Hugo Baskerville, the one who supposedly started the curse, and see that Mr. Stapleton looks a lot like him. Later, Henry meets with Mr. Stapleton. Meanwhile, Holmes and Watson have contacted Inspector Lestrade to help them in apprehending Mr. Stapleton. Later, the hound tries to attack Henry but the three are there to rescue him. They find Beryl tied up in the house and Mr. Stapleton missing.

Beryl tells them that he ran into the deep mire where he has hiding place. When they check it out the next morning, they find some of Henry’s items, Dr. Mortimer’s spaniel, and the final fate of Stapleton. It turns out that he may have died in the deep mire. The book ends weeks later with Holmes and Watson basically spelling it out for everyone. Mr. Stapleton was actually an unknown son of one of Sir Charles’s brothers. He was also a con artist and forced Beryl into playing along with the lie. His plan was to take the estate by making the myth of the hound real, but the plan failed thanks to Holmes and Watson.

I thought this was a pretty good read. It took a while for it to really get going, but when it started to get good, it got good. Holmes and Watson were pretty cool. I liked seeing all of what Holmes put into his deductions. I also liked that Watson got to headline most of the story in the middle. It was being narrated by him after all. A majority of Holmes’ stories were narrated by Watson himself, story-wise. The rest of the characters like Henry, Jack Stapleton, and Dr. Mortimer were fine as well.

 I liked the mystery behind it all. I couldn’t really piece it together until the end.  It kept me on the edge at a few moments. It had interesting plot twists that I didn’t see coming. It wasn’t all that predictable to me but I did have ideas on what may be the truth. Some were right while others were wrong. The best mysteries do that. The dialogue was where it really shined to me. It was really good especially between Holmes and Watson.

The only thing that hurts the story for me is most of the writing. It’s not bad but it does feel overwritten at times. It definitely feels like that in the beginning. On one hand, it could be the fact that this is a 100+ year-old story and I’m looking at it in a modern context. On the other hand, it could just be that it tries to be too descriptive at points. There were times where I had to pull back and wonder just what I was reading. Still, this didn’t hurt the experience for me. I thought the many pros beat this one con.

In the end, this was pretty good. It makes me want to check out the other stories that were written and maybe I’ll finish some of them this time. Holmes continues to be a popular character especially when it comes to movies, TV, and some comic books. Well, I can finally draw this weird Batman month to a close. This was fun for the most part. I did miss out on some characters but I can get to them some other time. Well, I’m outta here. Peace, God Bless, and be wary of mires… whatever they are.


1 comment:

  1. I bought this one too once upon a time and tried to read it and didn't get very far. Since you enjoyed it I'll have to try again. Plus I'll probably have more patience for it now. I love the comparison to Sherlock and Batman as well since I like both characters; I had never really thought of it before!