This is my favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery. It's beautifully written and masterfully plotted, and I consider it the pinnacle of Doyle's Holmes stories. It's also the first one I ever read, which might make me a teensy bit prejudiced in its favor.
(This review contains spoilage. Stop here and read the book first if you want.)
The story, in case you don't know, concerns a legend about a spectral hound that haunts the aristocratic Baskerville family, killing them or scaring them to death. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead outside the ancestral hall in Dartmoor, with the footprints of a gigantic hound beside him, his friend Dr. Mortimer consults Sherlock Holmes about whether the last of the Baskervilles, Sir Henry, should come from America and take over the family estate. Holmes scoffs at the idea of a supernatural hound, but sends Dr. Watson to Baskerville Hall to observe and report whatever happens, and also to protect Sir Henry. Holmes says he's too busy and has to stay in London, and so he's actually not in the majority of this book, though his presence looms over everything, much like the supposed presence of the ghastly hound.
I think what I like best about this book is the way the hound is a mirror image of Holmes himself. Holmes and the hound both spend most of the book out of sight, hiding on the moor. The hound is kept in an abandoned mine, while Holmes hides in an abandoned stone-age hut. The idea of the hound and its supernaturality frightens the local people, and even Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville, while the idea of Sherlock Holmes and his keen investigative powers frightens the villain. Once the hound is on the trail of a person, almost nothing stops it from reaching its foe, and once Holmes is on the trail of an evildoer, nothing stops him (usually). Once we see the hound, it's even described with words like "gaunt" that Doyle also uses to describe Holmes.
I also love the atmosphere that Doyle evokes: the mists and fogs of the moor, the loneliness of Baskerville Hall, the solemn solitude of everyone who lives there. I would love to visit the moor some day, just to know exactly what it's like.
Particularly Good Bits:
"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." (p. 593)
That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world. (p. 663)
A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. (p. 684)
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for suspense and scary images.