We owe 1902’s The Hound of the Baskervilles to Arthur Conan Doyle’s good friend Fletcher “Bobbles” Robinson, who took him to visit some scary English moors and prehistoric ruins, and told him marvelous local legends about escaped prisoners and a 17th-century aristocrat who fell afoul of the family dog. Doyle transmogrified the legend: generations ago, a hound of hell tore out the throat of devilish Hugo Baskerville on the moonlit moor. Poor, accursed Baskerville Hall now has another mysterious death: that of Sir Charles Baskerville. Could the culprit somehow be mixed up with secretive servant Barrymore, history-obsessed Dr. Frankland, butterfly-chasing Stapleton, or Selden, the Notting Hill murderer at large? Someone’s been signaling with candles from the mansion’s windows. Nor can supernatural forces be ruled out. Can Dr. Watson–left alone by Sherlock Holmes to sleuth in fear for much of the novel–save the next Baskerville, Sir Henry, from the hound’s fangs?
Many Holmes fans prefer Doyle’s complete short stories, but their clockwork logic doesn’t match the author’s boast about this novel: it’s “a real Creeper!” What distinguishes this particular Hound is its fulfillment of Doyle’s great debt to Edgar Allan Poe–it’s full of ancient woe, low moans, a Grimpen Mire that sucks ponies to Dostoyevskian deaths, and locals digging up Neolithic skulls without next-of-kins’ consent. “The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul,” Watson realizes. “Rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay … while a false step plunged us more than once thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet … it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths.” Read on–but, reader, watch your step! –Tim Appelo