Monday, December 23, 2019

Book #70 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (A. Conan Doyle)

I am doomed. Across the street from where I work a new liquor store has recently opened up called Total Wine. Total Wine is the be-all and end-all of liquor stores. Total Wine is to the corner liquor store what Walmart is to the corner convenience store. I mean these people have the biggest selection of booze I've ever seen...and it's right across the street from where I work!! I'm thinking of having my paycheck direct deposited there, so I won't need to fiddle with cash the next time. Anyway, on my most recent visit, which was today, I purchased a bottle of Busnel Calvados VSOP. Since Sherlock Holmes is a sophisticated Englishman who can solve any crime, and Calvados seems like a sophisticated pour (although very French, not English, but whatever) I decided this would make a good pairing for writing this blog post. In case you're not familiar with Calvados, it's a brandy made in Normandy from apples or pears. It's basically distilled apple cider. It was first made in the 1500s and has been going strong ever since, and I can tell you why: because it's fucking delicious. Mmm, highly recommended, and at 80 proof it is supplying the ample inspiration I need for this blog post.

While Total Wine may be the superhero of liquor stores, Sherlock Holmes was the English superhero of the 19th century. His superpowers were his uncanny intellect, his ability to notice even the smallest details around him, and his ability to deduce the meaning of these small details, especially when they pertain to a crime. He was also a dick. In the very first scene in the book, he and his buddy Watson, the narrator, are hanging out in their home on Baker Street in London. An unknown visitor has left his cane, and they are trying to figure out who the visitor was. Homes asks Watson to analyze the cane and deduce what he can about the visitor. Watson takes a stab at it and tells Holmes that the inscription on the cane, "To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H.," suggests it is owned by an elderly doctor who was awarded the object after years of faithful service. Holmes eggs Watson on, and Watson continues speculating, saying that the well-worn cane implies a country practitioner who walks about quite a bit.Holmes congratulates Watson on his insight, and Watson beams in the glow of his friend's praise. Holmes then totally shoots all of Watson's conclusions down. Holmes says that while the owner is indeed probably a country doctor, that C.C.H. actually means Charing Cross Hospital, which is in London. The cane was probably presented on the occasion of the man's retirement from the hospital, and only a young man would have retired from a successful city practice to move to a rural one. Holmes goes on to suggest that the man must possess a small spaniel, given the bite marks on the bottom of the cane, and at that there's a rap on the front door and the young man and his spaniel stand outside. Of course, Watson is blown away by Holmes's power of observation, but Holmes doesn't tell Watson that he saw the doctor and his dog coming up the walk, and so could describe them accurately. The dude's an arrogant dick. But a very smart arrogant dick. I work in science and I've run into some of those people. You want to dislike them but they're so smart that you have to admire and look up to them at the same time.

The man who owned the walking stick, Dr. James Mortimer, wants to hire Holmes to investigate the death of a friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, who was found dead on the moors near his country manor. He appeared to have died of a heart attack, but near the corpse the footprints of a gigantic hound were found. According to an old legend, a curse has haunted the Baskerville family since the 1600s, when Sir Hugo Baskerville abducted and murdered a woman, only to be killed in turn by a giant demonic hound, which has supposedly haunted the nearby moors ever since, killing off many of the Baskerville heirs. Dr. Mortimer is worried for the next man in line, the young Sir Henry Baskerville, who has just arrived from Canada to take over the family estate. Holmes, as a man of reason, doesn't believe in the story of the demonic hell-hound, but when someone tries to shoot Sir Henry in the streets of London when he first arrives, Holmes interest is peaked, and he sends Watson out to the country with Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry to see what he can find out about the situation. Here the mysteries ensue. Lots of strange things happen...distant howls are heard across the moors, a butler for the Baskervilles seems to be signalling to someone at night from the upper floor windows, a dangerous escaped convict roams the moors, neighbors appear either too friendly or a little too aloof. Watson tries to piece it all together, and gets some clues but not others. But why on Earth did Holmes send Watson to investigate while he stayed behind on London? Because unbeknownst to everyone he donned a disguise and hid out on the moors and solved the whole damn mystery on his own while Watson dithered around. Kind of a dick move again. But whatever. The mystery, while convoluted, gets totally solved by Holmes's genius, and justice is served. I won't give away any more details because that would spoil the fun in case you decide to read the novel. It's a good page-turner of a read, even if Holmes is an annoying dick sometimes. Will I read more of Sherlock Holmes's adventures? After all, the author wrote a number of stories about him. Probably not, but who knows. The murder mystery genre is not my favorite, but after a few more glasses of the Calvados I might change my mind. That is, if a mysterious hell-hound doesn't get me first.