As I alluded in my round-up of the first three Mary Russell novels, I wasn’t planning on reading this classic at any point in the future, until I read the back of The Moor and realized that the fourth novel in the series returned Holmes to the location of his most famous tale, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” So in the midst of all the house-sitting I was doing in August, I managed to make a trip back to my apartment for a day and found my copy of this novella, purchased years ago at Borders before it went out of business, and proceeded to finish reading it on August 18.
I am telling you all this so you can see how far behind I am in my reviews. I have finished “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and The Moor, so I’m like a review and a half behind. I’d say “Dang you, Once Upon a Time rewatch!,” but we all know that’s a lie. (I mean, have you seen the guy who plays Captain Hook on that show? With human eyes? He’s Alaina’s Pretend Boyfriend Number 1, is what I’m trying to say.)
It was … not jarring, but different, to go back to a tale of Sherlock Holmes narrated by John Watson and not Mary Russell. It’s been a few years since I read some of the original Holmes stories, and while Mary Russell does an excellent job narrating the future adventures of Holmes, I forgot how blind Watson can be sometimes to Holmes’ intricacies. But more on those later.
For those of you whose only knowledge of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is from such classic episodes as “The Hounds of Baskerville” from Sherlock or “The Pound of the Baskervilles” from Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, let’s go over the plot.
This Holmes tale starts as many do: someone shows up at 221B Baker Street and starts telling Holmes about their problem. In this instance, a country doctor tells Holmes about the Curse on his friends, the Baskervilles: basically, this old dude, Hugo Baskerville, who lived in this old house on the Moor, was a jackass and a perv, and he kidnapped a woman to force her to be his wife. When she ran away, he chased her out onto the Moor and then this big ol’ hound showed up and killed him. The Curse has been handed down for centuries, and now, Sir Charles Baskerville, just died of a combination of heart failure and what appears to be fear, because …. (and get ready for one of the most classic lines in all of literature):
“There was certainly no physical injury of any kind. But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did — some little distance off, but fresh and clear.”
“Footprints?” [asked Holmes.]
“A man’s or a woman’s?”
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:
“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” [p. 32]
So Holmes gets all excited, because there’s no way it could be an actual ghostly hound – that’s unpossible! Basically Dr. Mortimer has asked for Holmes’s help because the last remaining Baskerville heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, is returning to the homestead from Canada and he wants to make sure that he won’t die horribly. So Holmes sends Watson to the Moor with Mortimer and Henry Baskerville, because he has more important blackmail-ey things to investigate in London, and he trusts Watson to be his eyes and ears upon the moor.
Watson watches while Henry Baskerville falls in love with the sister of a butterfly collector in town, and clearly I’ve watched too much Hannibal and Silence of the Lambs because if someone really likes butterflies and moths, THEN SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THEM. Henry’s woman is shy, but warns Watson and Henry to return to London. Her brother, Stapleton, mourns the death of Sir Charles but takes an interest in Sir Henry right away. Also, there’s a subplot about an escaped criminal who’s living on the moor that may have connections to the Baskerville house. Also, Watson finds out that another woman, Laura Lyons, had a connection to Sir Charles and sent him a letter on the day he died. Watson investigates, and Charles Baskerville was helping Laura get enough money to earn a divorce so she could marry Stapleton, apparently. In addition to all that, there’s also a hobo living on the moor who just showed up last week, and he hasn’t been seen but everyone in town knows he’s out there.
What we the reader learn too late (almost) is that the hobo is actually Holmes. See, he never actually had any business in London; he just pretended to be away so that Watson could gather some evidence without the name of Holmes making everyone nervous. But he didn’t trust Watson fully, so he hid out on the moor to observe the goings-on for himself. This trait carries over into the Holmes/Russell novels, usually with Mary yelling at Holmes for pulling one of his tricks again. Holmes has a need for control over all things (beautifully played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC version), and no matter how implicitly he does actually trust Watson (and Russell, in the Laurie R. King series), he still can’t just let someone else do the investigating for him.
What I appreciated about the fallout in this instance is that Watson is temporarily hurt by Holmes’s trickery, and calls him out on it:
“I thought that you were in Baker Street working out that case of blackmailing.”
“That was what I wished you to tohink.”
“Then you use me, and yet do not trust me!” I cried with some bitterness. “I think that I have deserved better at your hands, Holmes.” [p. 179]
Unfortunately, Holmes then explains/rationalizes to Watson his need for secrecy, and Watson goes back to being all happy and puppy-eyed over Holmes again. So, the more things change, yada yada.
I am not going to disclose the solution of the mystery here. The book is really a novella, just about 200 pages, and if I can read it over six days, y’all can too. Also, there’s this thing, called Wikipedia? And that will tell you the solution just as well as I could. I’m just trying very hard to not spoil things any more.
So let’s leave with a couple of things that made me laugh out loud. First:
“There is Laura Lyons … but she lives in Coombe Tracey.”
“Who is she?” I asked.
“She is Frankland’s daughter.”
“What! Old Frankland the crank?” [p. 154]
Someday, I am going to have a character named Frankland the Crank, and he’s going to be awesome.
And finally, this quote from Holmes’s explication of the story to Watson, which caused a reaction in me that I will do my best to explain:
“There seemed to be no alternative but to catch him red-handed…” [p. 237]
Now, if y’all know me in real life, y’all know how much I love the Muppets. And my favorite Muppet movie of all time is The Great Muppet Caper. And my favorite joke of all time – that NEVER CEASES TO BE FUNNY – is the following exchange between Kermit and Beauregard:
(Start at 0:20, unless you want to hear what Janice says to her mother, which is also classic. Stop when the group groans at Beauregard’s answer. I apologize for not figuring out how to edit the length of this video to suit my needs.)
WHAT COLOR ARE THEIR HANDS NOW. I SWEAR TO GOD, I AM STILL LAUGHING AT THIS. I give it an extra half-star for letting me make this reference. Years from now, someone will mention something about catching someone red-handed, and I will ABSOLUTELY ASK, “What color are their hands now?”
Thank you, Jim Henson. Thank you.
Grade for The Hound of the Baskervilles: 3.5 stars