Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Yes, I continued my mental sabbatical with another easier read for the week of July 3-9. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four full-length Sherlock Holmes mystery novels written by Sir A. Conan Doyle, and it is quite delicious.  Although I stated in my introductory post that I wouldn't be using audio books, I ended up listening to the last 3 chapters since I had lasik surgery during that week and couldn't read for a couple days afterwards. If you use audiobooks regularly, keep in mind that English speakers (including the readers of audiobooks) speak about 150 words per minute. If you read faster than that, reading to yourself is a more efficient use of your time unless you are doing something else while you listen to the book, in which case your concentration is divided and you will probably miss much of what the author is trying to say.  That's not a problem when you're listening to an action-packed Sherlock Holmes mystery, but I personally would never try to listen to, for example, Dostoevsky as an audiobook. That said, very old works such as Beowulf were meant to be spoken aloud, and when I read Homer's Odyssey in 2012 (teaser!), I will definitely seek out an audio version at some point.

But, unlike Holmes, I digress.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the setting.  Dartmoor is a land of wind-swept moors, the remains of Bronze Age stone huts,  rocky granite outcroppings (tors) and a menacing bog. It is the perfect location for a mystery in which a supernatural hound appears to fulfill an ancient family curse. Having read this book, I would love to wander through the region and take it all in.

The novel opens with Sir Charles Baskerville discovered dead among the yew trees on his estate. (Yew trees are often found in church cemeteries, and are a symbol of sadness.)  It is quickly ascertained that Baskerville died of a heart attack, an event which has lent its name to "The Baskerville Effect", a statistical observation discovered in 2001 by researchers at UC San Diego. The Baskerville Effect states that mortality through heart attacks is increased by psychological stress.

The plot contains Conan Doyle's usual twists, turns, red herrings and Holmesian attention to detail. As in his other novels, Holmes' character is extremely well-developed while the other characters are less so, and at times even two-dimensional. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it allows Holmes' logical prowess, encyclopedic knowledge and attention to detail to take center stage.

Always brings his top game: Sherlock Holmes
Esteemed colleague: Dr. Watson
Unfortunate victim of family curse: Sir Charles Baskerville
Next in line for the axe (or in this case, hound): Sir Henry Baskerville
Original suspect(s):  can't tell you that
Actual villain: can't tell you that either
Perfect setting: Dartmoor
Is it supernatural, or flesh and blood?: the hound
Can anything good come from: Grimpen Bog
There was a lot of: weather, natural features, analysis of persons, telegrams
There should have been more: development of the villain's character
This book makes you want to: establish an ancestral home, live in a stone house in a wilderness area, pass on an excellent legacy to your descendants (or nieces and nephews), observe people more closely
This book makes you glad you don't have to: be pursued by a hound from hell (duh)

p.s. How could I forget to mention that the dreaded hound of the Baskervilles has its modern counterpart in Fahrenheit 451?  What evil deeds bring on the curse of the mechanical hound? How does a person become part of that line of sinners pursued by Ray Bradbury's hound? I leave that for you to deduce, my esteemed colleague.


Andria said...

Dr. Watson, you mean?

Kara said...

Thank you... :/ Can you tell that immediately before writing this I read an article on the parallels between Sherlock Holmes and House, M.D. ?

Andria said...