Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third novel by Arthur Conan Doyle to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Dramatic and atmospheric, The Hound of the Baskervilles has everything an entertaining and captivating story needs: a legend, a mysterious death and a very eerie setting. Fantastic reading! 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

It was a brave man who would cross the wild Devon moorlands in darkness.

For the ancient legend of the hound of the Baskervilles had persisted in family history for generations.  Indeed it was Sir Charles’s mysterious death in the grounds of Baskerville Hall that brought Sherlock Holmes to the scene of one of his most famous and intriguing cases.

‘He was running, Watson – running desperately, running for his life, running until he burst his heart and fell dead upon his face…’ What had it been, looming through the darkness, that could have inspired such terror? A spectral hound loosed from hell; or a creature of infinite patience and cunning, with a smiling face and a murderous heart…

Favourite Quote

‘It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.’

(From The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 12)

Review

I really enjoyed The Hound of The Baskervilles, much more so than the previous one, even though I did like The Sign of Four too.  Whereas The Sign of Four was melodramatic and came across as a little outlandish in places, The Hound of The Baskervilles was dramatic and atmospheric, and completely captivating.

Our first meeting with Dr James Mortimer is strange to say the least, as during that initial conversation he tells Holmes, “I confess that I covet your skull.”. With that revelation out of the way, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson learn what has brought their guest to them that morning…a tale of a curse that has already claimed a victim.

The legend of the hound of the Baskervilles sets up this mystery very nicely. And, as much as I enjoy superstitions and the paranormal, the ending was very good, very sound, and very clever.

The descriptions of the moor and tor are certainly evocative and help create the eeriness required to make the legend ring with the sound of authenticity, and even possibility.  Will you guess the culprit before it is revealed?  Probably.  I did.  However, this is a classic, and is perhaps the most famous and well-known of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and as such, should not be missed.

Rating

Book Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four is the second novel by Arthur Conan Doyle to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review

Entertaining and melodramatic, this short mystery has a lot going on and culminates with an epic night-time boat chase down The Thames.  Not to be missed!  4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

‘I abhor the dull routine of existence…That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created, for I am the only one in the world.’

‘The only unofficial detective?’ I said, raising my eyebrows.

‘The only unofficial consulting detective,’ he answered.  ‘I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.’

At first the interruption to the boredom of Sherlock Holmes seems to have little to do with crime. But there is mystery enough to intrigue the jaded detective. A governess, whose father vanished ten years ago and who has been receiving the gift of a valuable peal sent annually and anonymously, now needs an escort to meet her unknown benefactor.

But before the night has ended, an impossible murder is discovered. Although Watson is bemused by love, Holmes is helped by Toby the tracker dog and the Baker Street Irregulars to hunt down a brutal killer and interpret the Sign of Four…

Favourite Quote

I narrowed it down to two:

The first links in with the excerpt from the summary above:

‘My mind,’ he said, ‘rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.’

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 8)

The second quote focuses on Holmes not being impressed with Watson’s attempt to record the Jefferson Hope case, which Watson calls, ‘A Study in Scarlet‘:

‘Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 9)

Review

The Sign of Four has a lot going on in it, for a short book.  There is, of course, the mystery, which leads to a locked-room mystery, which leads to a period of tracking using the remarkable talents of a half-spaniel half-lurcher named Toby, there’s a little bit of a love story, a treasure hunt and a fantastically dramatic action-adventure style ending, which is memorable to say the least.

We really get to see into the person behind the Sherlock Holmes character in this instalment. Yes, he has a brilliant mind and he can do what others can’t, but we are shown in a very clear and obvious way that just because he is a genius, he doesn’t have to be good or likeable and usually he is quite the opposite. He can be rude and dismissive, he takes drugs simply because he is mentally bored and yet we love him and the stories he is in.

And there is something quite extraordinarily melodramatic about this storyline…it’s entertaining, it’s gripping, but there is an element of it being too much, too over-the-top, too outlandish.  And given how short the book is – my copy is only 138 pages long –  it is more of a novella than a full length novel.

There are two standout highlights of this story for me.  The first is that Dr Watson meets Mary and falls in love.  Aww.  The second is the night-time boat chase down The Thames, which is worthy of any modern-day action film.

Did I enjoy it as much as the previous novel, A Study in Scarlet, or more than some of the short stories?  No, I don’t think I did, but it was certainly entertaining and well worth a read.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.  It is the first story in the collection, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A good, gripping story with an interesting mystery and unexpected ending. 4 / 5

Summary

Sir James Damery seeks out Sherlock Holmes on behalf of an un-named yet illustrious client.  The case is a delicate one.  Violet de Merville has fallen madly in love with Baron Gruner, a highly intelligent man, believed by both Sir James and Sherlock Holmes to be a murderer.  Violet is determined to marry the Baron, no matter what anyone says about him and even after the man himself apparently lays bare his chequered past.  Can anything be done to make Violet realise what she refuses to see?

Favourite Quote

I couldn’t decide between these two:

‘Johnson is on the prowl,’ said he. ‘He may pick up some garbage in the darker recesses of the underworld for it is down there, amid the black roots of crime, that we must hunt for this man’s secrets.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 15)

*

‘Woman’s heart and mind are insoluble puzzles to the male. Murder might be condoned or explained, and yet some smaller offence might rankle.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 16)

Review

I am slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories, although not in chronological order.  Currently, I am moving back and forth between the short story collections, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, and having just recently finished the short novel A Study in Scarlet (you can read my review here), plan to start the next Sherlock novel, The Sign of Four, soon.

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client was a good story.  The storytelling ensured the tale was gripping and the mystery itself was certainly an interesting one.  As for the ending, it was certainly unexpected.

Out of all the Sherlock Holmes stories I have read so far, this one, I think, has the most interesting and memorable characters.

Kitty Winters was probably chief amongst them.  I would love to have known more of her back story.  One of my favourite descriptions from this story is that of her and Violet being like fire and ice.

The Baron made for a very engaging antagonist; a dangerous rogue but well-educated, with a niche interest in Chinese pottery.  He was also very brazen and sure of himself, admitting to Sherlock that yes, it’s all true but there is nothing you can do about it!

An entertaining read, indeed!

Rating

Book Review: A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study In Scarlet is the first of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Engaging and entertaining, a short, fast-paced read with a great atmosphere and intriguing mystery. Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy all the Sherlock Holmes-inspired retellings, adaptations and dramatisations.  This is where it all began… 5/5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Dr John Watson takes rooms in Baker Street with amateur detective Sherlock Holmes, he has no idea that he is about to enter a shadowy world of criminality and violence. Accompanying Holmes to an ill-omened house in south London, Watson is startled to find a dead man whose face is contorted in a rictus of horror. There is no mark of violence on the body yet a single word is written on the wall in blood. Dr Watson is as baffled as the police, but Holmes’s brilliant analytical skills soon uncover a trail of murder, revenge and lost love . . .

Favourite Quote

‘…a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line, and who, with such instructors may hope in time to attain to some degree of their skill.’

(From A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 135)

Review

With A Study In Scarlet being the first of Conan Doyle’s books to feature his iconic detective, we get to witness the meeting of two of the greatest characters in detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and learn how the latter becomes the chronicler of the cases we subsequently get to read about.  It is the perfect first book in a series, laying firm foundations for what is to come, but works equally well if read out of sequence.

I enjoyed how this story was set out, in two parts, the first being the case and the second giving a clear account of the motive behind the crime, though I can easily imagine not everyone will like this.  The narrative reads so well and flows so easily, given it was first published in 1887, and the pace was spot on.  It’s a short novel (my copy was around 135 pages), and thanks to the author’s writing style, is quick and easy to read.

Not only are we treated to a feast of storytelling but Conan Doyle’s humour also shines through in places (see favourite quote above).  And, he writes engagingly and entertainingly, both in terms of detective fiction and historical fiction, as we roam Victorian London and then are transported back in time to Utah of the mid-nineteenth century.

The story moves from factual and technical as we see how both Sherlock and the police process the clues the investigation turns up – and arrive at very different answers – to one of high emotion as we look beyond the crime to the events that prompted it.  It’s easy to feel sympathy for the characters in the second part of the novel; indeed that, I assume, is the intention, given the portrayal of Mormonism.

The cast of characters is, of course, fantastic. The interaction between Holmes and Watson is often amusing as Holmes is always over-confident in his reasoning (though is not always right), while Watson is not a yes man.  His role is not to ensure Sherlock Holmes looks as clever as he undoubtedly is, but brings with him his own intelligence and knowledge, which adds to the whole.  One of the best parts of the story was when Watson lists what he perceives Holmes is good at, and not so good at.  And then there is Lestrade, Gregson, Jefferson Hope and perhaps one of my favourites from this instalment story, Lucy Ferrier.  It certainly is a wonderful, rich cast.

Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy all the Sherlock Holmes-inspired retellings, adaptations and dramatisations.  This is where it all began…

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches is the twelfth and final short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary (from Goodreads)

When a young governess, unemployed and desperate for a position, accepts a job with a couple living in a remote country home, her positive first impressions of the man and his family begin to change. With a mixture of fear and uncertainty, she asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the increasingly disturbing events that have begun to unfold around her.

Favourite Quote 

I couldn’t chose between these two:

“Crime is common.  Logic is rare.  Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.”

*

“Data! Data!  Data!” he cried impatiently.  “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

Review

This was one of the more exciting stories in the collection, with a bit more action and drama in it than some of the previous stories.  Violet Hunter, the governess, is an interesting character: strong and sensible, which coupled with the mystery at The Copper Beeches made for a very enjoyable read.  There is quite a lot going on in this little story, ensuring that the pace is fast and the storyline engaging.

This is one of my favourites from The Adventures, which I think is due to the very Victorian Gothic feel to the story…Highly recommended!

Rating

 

 

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet is the eleventh story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

A strange looking man appears at Baker Street in a state, in desperate need of the help of Sherlock Holmes.  His name is Alexander Holder,and he’s a banker.  The day before he had received a visit from “one of the highest, noble names in England.”  The noble wanted an advance of £50,000 for the duration of a week.  The security he puts up for such a large sum is the Beryl Coronet, one of the greatest treasures in the empire.

Holder decides he cannot leave such a valuable item in the office so takes it home, but some time in the night, the house is burgled, the Coronet goes missing and suspicion falls squarely on Holder’s son.

Favourite Quote

It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Review

I found this short story to be interesting and enjoyable.  Holmes takes the information that he is given and, coupled, with facts that he accumulates himself – such as the study of footprints in the snow – proves that not only is the obvious suspect not the guilty party but finds who is really behind the crime (in much the same way as he does in The Boscombe Valley Mystery).

What I’ve noticed that I like about these Sherlock Holmes stories is that just because Holmes can uncover the truth it doesn’t always have to have a neat and tidy ending where the crime / mystery is solved and punishment is duly meted out.  Villains can still escape, and that makes these stories a lot more like real-life.

Rating

 

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor is the tenth story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

Lord Robert St. Simon seeks Sherlock Holmes’ help in the disappearance of his wife, Hatty Doran, on their wedding day.  It is after the wedding, at the reception, when she goes missing.  Just prior to the wedding breakfast, a disturbance is caused by a woman who says she has a claim upon Lord St. Simon.  The matter appears to be dealt with, but the bride leaves early and retires to her room.  And yet, she is almost immediately seen leaving the house, after which no-one sees her again.

What has happened to her?  Where has she gone?  And most importantly, why did she leave in the first place?

Favourite Quote

Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters.

Review

An interesting, if not the most memorable story in the collection.  The story centres around a fairly common practice of the time: English noble strapped for cash marries wealthy American in search of title.  Of course, this isn’t a love match, but neither does anyone expect the bride to disappear right after the ceremony.

One of the entertaining highlights of the story is the verbal sparring between Lestrade and Holmes.  On the one hand the Scotland Yard detective’s assumption sounds reasonable, even logical, but Sherlock is quick to point out the error of his ways.

There are enough clues littered throughout the story for the reader to figure this mystery out (which I did) before the answer is revealed, which is half the fun.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventures of the Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of The Engineer’s Thumb is the ninth story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Summary

An injured man finds his way to Dr Watson’s surgery.  His thumb has been cut off.  Dr Watson, as he is treating him, asks how the rather strange injury came about.  When the man, Mr Hatherley, replies, he suggests they go and speak to Sherlock Holmes.  They soon learn that Mr Hatherley was engaged by a strange man to go and fix a hydraulic stamping machine somewhere in the middle of the English countryside.  He is to be paid well for his efforts, but things are not quite right.  Why is the commission top secret?  And why does a woman try to persuade him to leave as soon as he arrives?  Sherlock Holmes after hearing the bizarre story, naturally takes the case to find out these answers and more.

Favourite Quote

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.

Review

Another riveting Sherlock Holmes mystery.  This is another one that I couldn’t quite crack, though there are plenty of clues along the way.

There is a lot more drama in this story that the other ones I have so far read, in my opinion.  And reading of the close call Mr Hatherley has whilst he is at the isolated house raises the tension a lot.  It’s also a little more gory than the other short stories thanks to the passage where Dr Watson is treating the damaged hand of Mr Hatherley.

A great story, and a interesting read.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of The Speckled Band in the eighth short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

Helen Stoner goes to visit Sherlock Holmes as she fears her life is in danger.  She believes her stepfather, Dr Roylott might try to kill her, as her sister died in strange circumstances two years previously, shortly before she was to be married.  Now Helen is to be married, she is scared of suffering the same fate. Since her sister’s death, her final words, spoken in terror, have haunted Helen, “The speckled band!”  But she has not been able to work out what they mean.  The question is, can Sherlock Holmes, before Dr Roylott is able to do away with his remaining step-daughter?

Favourite Quote

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him.

Review

This was a great little mystery and so very imaginative.  There are so many clues and red herrings littered throughout the story that you find it difficult to pinpoint the truth of the matter, until of course, everything falls neatly into place.

The Adventure of The Speckled Band is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  It has everything a late Victorian story should; exotic wild animals that are free to roam, a suspect band of gypsies who keep company with the guilty party, and a damsel in distress at the mercy of her strange and greedy stepfather.  Fabulous stuff!  It kept me guessing until the very end.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle

Summary

Two archaeologists are in Rome where one of them, Burger, has discovered a new catacomb.  Naturally, he wants to keep it a secret until he’s been able to study it and write his own report on his findings before the word spreads.  However, his friend, Kennedy, wishes to hear of the discovery, and so they come to an agreement: Burger will share with him what he’s found, if Kennedy will honestly answer any question put to him.  But where will such a bargain lead?

Favourite Quote

“You know we look upon a man who kisses and tells as the greatest coward and villain possible.”

Review

This was my Halloween Read for 2017.  I hadn’t heard of it before seeing a social media post recommending it as a good Halloween read.  So, of course, I thought I would give it a try.

The New Catacomb fell short of the mark as a spooky Halloween read.  Yes, it was atmospheric but I could guess what was going on long before the reveal.  That being said, the characters were well-crafted, the story was interesting and imaginative.  It was definitely worth a read.

I think I would have enjoyed this short story more if I hadn’t read it as a Halloween Read, so I can imagine that I will return to re-read it at a later date.

Rating