Cover image of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," a Gothic mystery involving Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

An ancient curse . . . Neolithic ruins . . . a murderer on the loose . . . and a mysterious death on the moor . . . all the ingredients for the compelling Gothic mystery that brought Sherlock Holmes back to life in 1902 after his death in the pages of “The Final Problem” nearly a decade earlier.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best known of the four Sherlock Holmes novels, and it often crops up on lists of the best mysteries of all time. The characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson also continue to make their way onto screens both large and small. The list of outstanding actors who have played Holmes on stage, on television, and in films is legion. Among them are Basil Rathbone, Ian McKellan, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., and Will Ferrell. Holmes and Watson are fast approaching the stature of mythic heroes, and this accomplished Gothic mystery played a large role in building their legend.

A mysterious death on the moor

The Hound of the Baskervilles opens with Holmes and Watson conferring in Holmes’s flat at 221B Baker Street. Dr. James Mortimer, a physician from Devon, arrives in hopes of enlisting the legendary detective in a troubling case. A wealthy local nobleman, Sir Charles Baskerville, has died mysteriously on the moor, fulfilling an ancient curse. It appears that the old man was frightened to death. The local folk believe he was running from a supernatural beast that lives on the moor and preys on the men of the Baskerville family. But Dr. Mortimer believes the baronet was murdered.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes #3 of 4) by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902) pages ★★★★★  

Image of actors starring as Holmes and Watson on film
Robert Downey,Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, with Jude Law as Dr. Watson, in one of the innumerable adaptations of the iconic detective and his sidekick for film and television. 

All the elements of a compelling Gothic mystery

Now, the baronet’s young heir, Henry Baskerville, is arriving from Canada. Dr. Mortimer fears for his life. Holmes agrees to take the case but declines to travel to Devonshire. Instead, he dispatches Dr. Watson to accompany Mortimer and young Baskerville on the journey to the Baskerville estate. There, he is to investigate and report his findings to Holmes by post.

On the scene in Devon, the plot thickens.

  • Mystery surrounds the aged couple who staff Baskerville Hall.
  • A friendly brother and sister who live nearby may harbor secrets.
  • The fugitive killer has eluded the police.
  • Evidence turns up that Sir Charles received a message shortly before his death.
  • From time to time Watson hears a bloodcurdling shriek coming from the moor.

Meanwhile, Holmes steadfastly refuses to visit the scene.

Image of Dartmoor in Devonshire, a fitting setting for this Gothic mystery
The moor in southern Devon known today as Dartmoor. It’s much like the land where much of the action in this novel takes place.

Unlike the formulaic whodunits that proliferated in later years, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a truly puzzling mystery. The plot hangs not on misdirected clues from the author but on secrets that only gradually come into the open as the story unfolds. The novel is as good as anything in the genre written since.

About the author

Image of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of this Gothic mystery

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in addition to numerous other fantasy, science fiction, and humorous stories, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, and historical novels. He was also an esteemed physician, an outspoken Freemason and spiritualist, promoter of psychic research, a political activist, and an avid athlete who played football and cricket. To later generations, he is remembered for the Sherlock Holmes stories, but in his day he was one of the most famous men in the British Empire for his multiple talents and interests.

For more reading

For a fascinating book about Sherlock Holmes’ creator, see Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox (How Sherlock Holmes foreshadowed today’s “scientific detecting”).

Check out Famous people as detectives in fact and fiction.

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For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels. And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here.

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