I hate to admit this, but until Guy Ritchie adapted Sherlock Holmes for the big screen, I had never given much thought to him. He certainly was never on my short list of things to read, being much more likely to read Jane Austen or any of the Brontes.
But then Guy Ritchie made Sherlock Holmes sexy and I started to wonder how faithful he had been to the spirit of the stories.
It turns out, that he was pretty spot on.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is arguably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous book under the Sherlock Holmes mantle. When Sir Charles Baskerville suddenly dies on the moor outside his home, apparently of fright, his friend Dr. Mortimer travels to London to seek out the help of everyone’s favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. Mortimer reads to Holmes the story of another Baskerville, Sir Hugo, who was a bit more mercurial than his descendant. Seems that Sir Hugo liked to imprison servant girls and when one of them got away, he chased her down the moor and tried to rape her. When his friends ran after them they found the girl dead on the moor and Sir Hugo’s throat being ripped out by this massive black hound. One of the friends dies that very night from the fright of what he has seen and the other two spend the rest of their days tortured by it.
So Sherlock Holmes dispatches his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson to help solve the mystery so that the new inhabitant of Baskerville hall, Sir Henry Baskerville, is safe.
In typical Sherlock Holmes style, the things that seem supernatural and inexplicable, turn out to have simple, rational explanations. I found that this one was a little easier to unravel than some of the shorter stories, but no less enjoyable.
The best part about the edition that I have (Penguin Classics 2011) are the notes in the back. I’ve heard that there are those out there that dedicate their lives to the study of Sherlock Holmes and I have no doubt that the notes were written by one of them. This person used the notes to point out the rare oversights of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and to repeatedly underline the fact that in no part of the stories does Sherlock Holmes wear a dear stalker hat or smoke a pipe.
And he’s right.
I can’t tell if I am disappointed or not. Evidently the whole deerstalker thing was an invention of the original illustrator, and has stayed in our collective consciousness ever since.
Deerstalker or not, Sherlock Holmes will always be one of the best characters in crime fiction and The Hound of the Baskervilles will remain the best of the best.