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The Book Club

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound Of The Baskervilles

1. “Hound Of The Baskervilles”. Out of the four crime novels that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has penned, the “Hound Of The Baskervilles” is widely considered to be his finest work; and for good reason. Despite revolving around two primary settings, the story is peppered with its fair share of tensions and climaxes, and more importantly the reader is kept guessing right until the very end. All the characters – perhaps except Holmes, Watson and Henry – are possible suspects of the crime, and Conan Doyle gives very little away until Holmes and Watson manage to piece everything together at the very end. Even when the culprit has been determined, questions still remain over the genuine presence of the “hound”, and also whether the planned attempt to arrest Stapleton and subsequently subdue the “hound” would be successful.

2. The Holmes-Watson partnership. Unlike other novels and stories where the both are usually vis-à-vis and hand-in-hand with regard to their partnership, Watson acts as the eyes and ears of Holmes; for the latter is concerned that his presence would deter the culprit and possibly hinder the investigation process. Ultimately, Watson finds out that Holmes had likewise been in the neighbourhood conducting his own studies in cognito. Still, their traces lead to identical lines, and through a final process of probing and exchanges, they collectively confirm their suspicions and get into action.

3. Holmes’s considerable regard and appreciation of Watson’s intellect and talent. “It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it”.

4. Watson’s capabilities and abilities. In one of the rare moments in the Sherlock Holmes series, Watson gets some alone-time to showcase his investigative abilities having been interacting with Holmes for an extended period of time. As he emerges from the sidekick-shadow, he shows how much he has learnt by applying many of Holmes’s techniques; and even manages to find out the truth about the Barrymores and Selden, the escaped convict. His eye for detail and patient search does lead him to Holmes, but his exchange with Laura Lyons – in comparison to Holmes’s approaching and greater observation prowess – shows that Holmes is clearly more proficient in the subject-matter.

5. Holmes’s failures and perceived vulnerabilities. Stapleton is a worthy adversary, and he clearly had the upper hand throughout their exchanges in London. The sudden inability of Holmes to make sense of the assortment of random and suspicious events added a new dimension to the story; especially for readers who might be accustomed to Holmes dominating the scene and shedding the truth speedily. Holmes’s absence in the many chapters in the book also provided some degree of uncertainty, leading many to believe the complexity of the case and the additional effort needed to crack it.

6. The Watson perspective. Watson as a narrator in the Sherlock Holmes series subtly provides opportunities for the reader to actually ponder over the crime and systematically contemplate the many possibilities and permutations. Watson’s personal involvement this time round – with his visits and interactions with a multitude of characters – allows readers to be part of the action, and be sucked into the grand scheme of things. Likewise, we are not denied the pleasure of having the case dissected by Holmes at the very end; and even though Watson is seemingly the protagonist of the story, Holmes takes centre-stage and in usual fashion blows everyone away with his “Holmesian” approaches.

7. Red herrings. In any detective fiction, the purpose of red herrings is to distract readers from the actual case or individual, leading them to believe in something that might not even have any relation whatsoever to the case. Conan Doyle uses red herrings to mislead quite masterfully. One might be led to believe that the Barrymores were hiding the culprit – coincidentally the escaped convict – in the forest; but Selden proved to be innocent other than the crimes he had been convicted for. His death was an accident; for he was thought to be Henry with his old clothes on. The unknown man dwelling at the prehistoric stone spotted by Watson was none other than Holmes himself. Each character, with their purported prejudices, continues to be points and figures of suspicion.

8. The “hound”. Interesting how Conan Doyle managed to create a fictional, mythical “hound” into something more believable, with the same degree of terror.

9. Superstitions and the supernatural. Conan Doyle cleverly starts the story off with the supposed Baskerville curse, a folktale perpetrated with superstitious beliefs of the supernatural; a roaming, mystical “hound”. While it makes for great reading, it also provides a convenient contrast to the rational and calculated approaches of Holmes and Watson; methods that naturally dispel ridiculous notions in these aforementioned beliefs.

10. And a little advice for those who go through life speedily. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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