The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most famous and admired detective stories ever written. Published in 1901 and 1902, it originally appeared in nine monthly installments in The Strand magazine. Like Dickens's serialized novels of the same era, each installment ended with a suspenseful "cliff-hanger" that kept author Arthur Conan Doyle's audience clamoring for more. (For more information about the rise of the serial novel, see "Stay Tuned for our Next Episode...".
In the story, the old and noble Baskerville family is threatened by a curse: "A great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon" terrorizes and kills any family member who comes to live at the Baskerville estate. As the story opens, the hound seems to have claimed his latest victim, Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles's nephew, Henry, the new heir to the estate, is poised to take up residence the next day. A friend of the family, Dr. Mortimer, comes to consult the famous Sherlock Holmes in his rooms at 221b Baker Street, though he confesses he doesn't know if the case is more suitable "for a detective or a priest." The first installment of the novel originally ended as Dr. Mortimer explains:
"...One false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did -- some little distance off, but fresh and clear."
"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
Into this atmosphere of lonely moors, ancient secrets, deadly threats, and ghostly apparitions comes the supremely rational Sherlock Holmes -- a man described by his friend Watson as "the most perfect reasoning and observing machine the world has ever seen." Piece by piece Holmes and Watson solve the mystery and find the culprit. In the end, they reassure the characters in the novel (as well as Conan Doyle's Victorian readers), that behind the threat of a supernatural "hound of hell" is a perfectly scientific explanation.
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