The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of the four crime novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England’s West Country and tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a fearsome, diabolical hound of supernatural origin. Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson investigate the case. This was the first appearance of Holmes since his apparent death in “The Final Problem”, and the success of The Hound of the Baskervilles led to the character’s eventual revival.
One of the most famous stories ever written, in 2003, the book was listed as number 128 of 200 on the BBC’s The Big Read poll of the UK’s “best-loved novel.” In 1999, it was listed as the top Holmes novel, with a perfect rating from Sherlockian scholars of 100.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In the year 1889 Dr. James Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes for advice following the death of his friend, Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles was found dead on the grounds of his Devonshire estate, Baskerville Hall. Mortimer now fears for Sir Charles’s nephew and sole heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, who is the new master of Baskerville Hall. The death was attributed to a heart attack, but Mortimer is suspicious, because Sir Charles died with an expression of horror on his face, and Mortimer noticed “the footprints of a gigantic hound” about 50 yards from where Sir Charles lay dead. The Baskerville family has supposedly been under a curse since the era of the English Civil War when ancestor Hugo Baskerville allegedly offered his soul to the devil for help in abducting a woman and was reportedly killed by a giant spectral hound. Sir Charles believed in the curse and was apparently fleeing from something in fright when he died.
Intrigued, Holmes meets with Sir Henry, newly arrived from Canada. Sir Henry has received an anonymous note, cut and pasted from newsprint, warning him away from the Baskerville moors, and one of his new boots is inexplicably missing from his London hotel room. The Baskerville family is discussed: Sir Charles was the eldest of three brothers; the youngest, black sheep Rodger, is believed to have died childless in South America, while Sir Henry is the only child of the middle brother. Sir Henry plans to move into Baskerville Hall, despite the ominous warning message. Holmes and Dr Watson follow him from Holmes’s Baker Street apartment back to his hotel and notice a bearded man following him in a cab; they pursue the man, but he escapes. Mortimer tells them that Mr Barrymore, the butler at Baskerville Hall, has a beard like the one on the stranger. Sir Henry’s boot reappears, but an older one vanishes.
Holmes sends for the cab driver who shuttled the bearded man after Sir Henry and is both astounded and amused to learn that the stranger had made a point of giving his name as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to the cabbie. Holmes, now even more interested in the Baskerville affair but held up with other cases, dispatches Watson to accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall with instructions to send him frequent reports about the house, grounds, and neighbours. Upon arrival at the grand but austere Baskerville estate, Watson and Sir Henry learn that an escaped murderer named Selden is believed to be in the area.
Barrymore and his wife, who also works at Baskerville Hall, wish to leave the estate soon. Watson hears a woman crying in the night; it is obvious to him that it was Mrs Barrymore, but her husband denies it. Watson can find no proof that Barrymore was in Devon on the day of the chase in London. He meets a brother and sister who live nearby: Mr Stapleton, a naturalist, and the beautiful Miss Stapleton. When an animal sound is heard, Stapleton is quick to dismiss it as unrelated to the legendary hound. When her brother is out of earshot, Miss Stapleton mistakes Watson for Sir Henry and warns him to leave. She and Sir Henry later meet and quickly fall in love, arousing Stapleton’s anger; he later apologises and invites Sir Henry to dine with him a few days later.
Barrymore arouses further suspicion when Watson and Sir Henry catch him at night with a candle in an empty room. Barrymore refuses to answer their questions, but Mrs. Barrymore confesses that Selden is her brother, and her husband is signalling that they have left supplies for him. Watson and Sir Henry pursue Selden on the moor, but he eludes them, while Watson notices another man on a nearby tor. After an agreement is reached to allow Selden to flee the country, Barrymore reveals the contents of an incompletely burnt letter asking Sir Charles to be at the gate at the time of his death. It was signed with the initials L.L.; on Mortimer’s advice, Watson questions a Laura Lyons, who admits to writing the letter in hopes that Sir Charles would help finance her divorce, but says she did not keep the appointment. Watson tracks the second man he saw in the area and discovers it to be Holmes, investigating independently in hopes of a faster resolution. Holmes reveals further information: Stapleton is actually married to the supposed Miss Stapleton, and he promised marriage to Laura Lyons to get her cooperation.
They hear a scream and discover the body of Selden, dead from a fall. They initially mistake him for Sir Henry, whose old clothes he was wearing. They also meet Stapleton.
At Baskerville Hall, Holmes notices a resemblance between Stapleton and a portrait of Hugo Baskerville. He realises that Stapleton could be an unknown Baskerville family member, seeking to claim the Baskerville wealth by eliminating his relatives. Reasuring Sir Henry to keep a dinner date with the Stapletons; Holmes and Watson pretend to travel to London but in fact they interview Laura Lyons who is angered when she learns the truth of the Stapletons-she confirms that it was Stapleton who thrice tricked her-first into writing the fatal letter to Sir Charles and then not keeping the appoiment and lastly not revealing it was Stapleton idea. Accompanied by Inspector Lestrade, whom Holmes has summoned, Holmes and Watson travel to the Stapleton home, where Sir Henry is dining. They rescue him from a hound that Stapleton releases while Sir Henry is walking home across the moor. Shooting the animal dead in the struggle, Sherlock reveals that it was a perfectly mortal dog – a mix of bloodhound and mastiff, painted with phosphorus to give it a hellish appearance. They find Miss Stapleton bound and gagged inside the house, while Stapleton apparently dies in an attempt to reach his hideout in a nearby mine located at the heart of the Grimpen Mire. They also find Sir Henry’s boot, which was used to give the hound Sir Henry’s scent.
Weeks later, Holmes provides Watson with additional details about the case. Stapleton was, in fact, Rodger Baskerville’s son, also named Rodger and was a physical and moral throwback to Hugo Baskerville. His now-widow is a South American woman, the former Beryl Garcia. He supported himself through crime for many years-first by fleeing Central America after his marriage when he stole a considerable amount of public money; in 1885 at Yorkshire he used the money to open a public school; however the tutor he had hired to make the school a success died of consumption; Baskerville then tried to use the school to teach his pupils crime which was struck by an epidemic which killed three students; he was compelled to close the school in 1887. He took the remains of his fortune, his wife and his taste for entomology [in which he was a expert] to his ancesterial home in Devonshire; [although Holmes cannot prove it, he believes that Baskerville supported himself by engaging in several bulgaries and one murder], before learning that he could inherit a fortune by murdering his uncle and cousin. Stapleton had taken Sir Henry’s old boot because the new, unworn boot lacked his scent. The hound had pursued Selden to his death because of the scent on Sir Henry’s old clothes. Mrs Stapleton had disavowed her husband’s plot, so he had imprisoned her to prevent her from interfering. Holmes pays Stapleton a backhanded compliment as a man who for years has been one of the most dangerous and desperate persons Holmes has ever come across.
The story ends with Holmes and Watson leaving to see the opera Les Huguenots starring Jean de Reszke.