After finishing reading The Heat of the Day and a couple of non-fiction books, I decided to sample one of the books I was given at Christmas time: namely The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

I must mention in passing what a great cover my Penguin English Library edition has (click on the image to view a larger version). A really brilliant piece of book design work.

I think, Dr Mortimer, you would do wisely if without more ado you kindly tell me plainly what the exact nature of the problem is in which you demand my assistance.

I had not previously read any Sherlock Holmes tales, but knew a fair amount about him and his trusty partner, Dr John Watson, from television adaptations I have seen. Since, reading this – one of the most famous of all the Sherlock Holmes cases – I have since discovered that Doyle wrote no less than fifty-six short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, along with four novel-length cases, of which this is one.

In fact, a little piece of trivia a friend told me is that Doyle actually killed off his famous sleuth in “The Final Problem” (published in 1893), but due to immense and continued pressure from his numerous fans, he reversed his decision eight years later and published The Hound of the Baskervilles and, later, further cases.

Anyway, back to the case in question. The action is set in 1989, initially in London and then in Dartmoor in Devon. Holmes’ loyal assistant, Dr John Watson, narrates the tale, and, for much of the time, is the only one on hand to directly assist their client, Sir Henry Baskerville, as another important case keeps Holmes in London for several days.

The tale has many great elements to it: a noble family seemingly under a terrible curse, an unexplained death, the wild landscape of the moor, an escaped convict, rumours of a spectral hound, and the brilliant mind of the famous detective.

Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish, be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

I do not want to write much about the case, for fear of giving anything away and spoiling it for anyone who has not read it. However, I will say that this was a very entertaining and enjoyable read. I will now have to look out for some of the other cases!

In closing, I must write a little about Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. From what little I have read of him, he seems every bit as fascinating a man as is his famous sleuth. Here are just some of his many talents and achievements:

  • He was a qualified physician and had medical papers published in the British Medical Journal.
  • He was employed as a doctor on the Greenland whaler Hope of Peterhead in 1880, and as a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast in 1881.
  • While living in Southsea, Doyle played football as a goalkeeper for Portsmouth Association Football Club.
  • Doyle was also a keen cricketer, and between 1899 and 1907 he played 10 first-class matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
  • Also a keen golfer, Doyle was elected captain of the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club, East Sussex for 1910.
  • Doyle served as a volunteer doctor in the Langman Field Hospital at Bloemfontein during the Boer War.
  • From this experiences, he wrote a short but influential work titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, which justified the UK’s role in the Boer War and was widely translated.
  • Doyle was also a supporter of the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State and wrote The Crime of the Congo, a long pamphlet in which he denounced the horrors of that colony.
  • He also wrote various other historical texts.
  • He was twice a parliamentary candidate (although he received a respectable vote, he was not elected).
  • Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice and personally investigated two closed cases, which led to two men being exonerated of the crimes of which they were accused.
  • Doyle was close friends for a time with Harry Houdini, the American magician.
  • Later in life, he converted to spiritualism, writing works such as The Coming of the Fairies.

What a fascinating and full life he led. I am now very tempted to read Julian Barnes’ novel Arthur & George, which depicts Doyle’s attempt to clear the name of George Edalji, a man Doyle was convinced was innocent of the crime he had been imprisoned for.