Looking for something new? Try a classic mystery
The mystery genre is, well, a mystery to me. It always seems too grisly, too creepy or too predictable. Hence, I don’t read (or review) much from this area of the library.
But I am a huge fan of the show “Sherlock,” which updates the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and gives them a modern setting and storyline. In my book club this year, someone suggested we read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and see how it compared to the show.
I was skeptical at first – not only do I not like mysteries, I don’t like very many classic novels. But the book was very short, and I found it on audio, so I could listen to it in my car. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
For those unfamiliar with the lore of Sherlock Holmes, let me fill you in: He is a middle-aged single man with a startling ability to observe small details and come to correct conclusions. He is also somewhat of an enigma; his great intelligence and aloof manner separates him from the rest of the world. He does find great service and friendship in his partner in crime solving, Dr. John Watson. Doyle puts Watson as the narrator of the books, supposing he would submit a record of their capers to paper. (Which is how Doyle himself did it, publishing many of his works in The Strand magazine in contiguous installments.)
As this story opens, Holmes and Watson have an unexpected visitor, one Dr. James Mortimer, a country doctor who has received quite a shock. His friend and neighbor, an elderly gentleman by the name of Charles Baskerville, has recently died, and the facts of the case do not add up. When he was found, there was not a mark on him, no indication at all why he died. And when the crime scene was examined, there were various sets of footprints – regular ones obviously belonging to Sir Charles, but then smaller, deeper ones and finally an impossibly large set of paw prints, right near where the man was found dead.
Now, the new heir to the estate, an American named Henry Baskerville, has been sent to come claim his new fortune. Dr. Mortimer, intending to be as good a neighbor to the new tenant as the last, seeks to help the fellow get acquainted with the house and countryside. But when Baskerville receives a hastily pasted together warning to stay away, they seek Sherlock Holmes’ aid. Dr. Mortimer relates the somewhat fantastical history of the Baskerville family and the supposed giant hound that the family has been cursed with for generations. Many of the Baskerville men have had untimely and unexplained deaths, which has further fueled the legend. Now the new heir fears foul play and wants to get to the bottom of the matter.
Doyle is a master of weaving together seemingly disparate details into one comprehensive explanation, and his sense of pacing and reveal are masterful. You are always one step behind (like Watson often feels) and then just when you think you have figured it out, Doyle throws in another twist. Even having a prior knowledge of the story, I still had trouble predicting its outcome, and thoroughly enjoyed the fine balance between tension and exposition in the story.
Perhaps the genre isn’t so bad after all. Perhaps I was just waiting for the right mystery to find me.
Jill Cluff is a sometimes librarian who is married to one giant and mom to two boys. She loves all things book- and food-related – often at the same time.