Look­ing for some­thing new? Try a clas­sic mys­tery

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By J ill Cluf f

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.

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