Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (from here on HOUN) is a murder mystery novel published in 1902 in The Strand Magazine for the first time and is a part of the Sherlock Holmes series.
In the novel, we follow the investigations of the famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his ever loyal friend Dr. John Watson. They attempt to discover what killed Sir Charles Baskerville. Was it really fear of a supernatural hound, a family legend of the Baskervilles long plaguing the village by the moor, or was there human agency involved?
HOUN is solely a murder mystery novel on the surface, with Holmes as the main character, Watson as the narrator (and the secondary main character), and a real murder to be solved. However, when you look closer, there lies something underneath that was not always associated with mystery stories of the era. The mystery subtext of the book consists of Watson as the protagonist who is going through his own journey of self-discovery.
We are given the clues to this with the beginning of the crime plot as it starts with Watson as the sole investigator. He needs to report the clues he finds to his friend Holmes so that Holmes can solve the mystery from far away. One of the small mysteries that Watson solves is Holmes himself, as he is the man was following him secretly on the moor. From that point on, our heroes face all sorts of dangers together, trying to uncover the secrets of Sir Charles’s death such as tradition, law enforcement itself, society, etc. both surrounding them physically and represented by the hound itself. These also reflect the problems Watson faces in his symbolic journey through the moor as he tries to reconcile with his feelings for Holmes.
This possible reading of the novel makes it more accessible for me as a reader, as the murder mystery itself is not a surprising one after having read many that have been influenced by it. Thus the fact that the story manages to stay at mainstream reach with its traditional murder mystery but also has secrets of its own to hide is what appeals to me. A work of this genre needs wide appeal, yet it can also be an intellectual read, needing to be puzzled out by its reader on a narrative level. This need not surprise us. Where is it more fitting to hide a mystery than a mystery novel?
Conan Doyle uses Watson to let us know of his designs with a passage where Watson is unknowingly talking of Holmes:
“There, in that hut upon the moor, seems to lie the very centre of that problem which has vexed me so sorely. I swear that another day shall not have passed before I have done all that man can do to reach the heart of the mystery” (109).
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles & The Valley of Fear. Hertfordshire:
Wordsworth Classics, 1999. Print