Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Hound of the Baskervilles (reviewed)

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.

On a more positive note, I just finished reading The Hound of the Baskervilles for the second time. It's a great classic of the mystery genre, and it's a fun read.

Writers often remark that dialog is easier and more interesting to read than straight narrative, especially where exposition comes in. This idea gets a lot of support here. Oftentimes Watson or Holmes will describe a long series of events by the reading of a letter, which may go on for several pages. The prose may look like narrative, but it's actually framed as dialog, which did seem to make it easier to read and more interesting. At least I thought so.

[spoiler follows]

Doyle also uses red herrings rather liberally. Right from the start, for example, he makes us wonder who the doctor named Mortimer might be and why he would have left his walking stick behind, but these questions merely served to introduce Watson and Holmes; Mortimer wasn't involved in the murders at all. Also, Mortimer had a dog, but it wasn't big enough to be the hound in the story. There were lots of other red herrings, but then, what do you expect from a mystery?

[end spoiler]

Doyle deftly switches from one scene to the next. Oftentimes he'll prep a destination in one sentence, then suddenly they've arrived at it in the following. He doesn't always do this, and that's where it gets interesting, because when he does give detailed exposition and description, the effect really stands out. For example, at the start of Chapter 6, Watson describes Baskerville Hall as he and the new baronet see it for the first time, including the surrounding countryside as they approach by train, then the road and the buildings as they approach by carriage. This is a remarkably different experience from reading, say, Henry James, where everything is burdened with description and nothing seems remarkable.

Anyway, I recommend this story, especially for fans of the mystery genre.