The Hound of the Baskervilles presents the famous detective Sherlock Holmes with the ultimate challenge of using his modern methods of reason and deduction against primitive superstition and supernatural beliefs. He must prove that a real person and a corporeal hound are behind the events at Baskerville Hall, banishing all rumors of a curse. The action of the novel takes place in two distinct locations: London, representing the center of British civilization and modernity, and the Devon moors, a place where superstition clouds the mind. As Holmes leaves Watson to his own devices at Baskerville Hall, Watson finds even his scientific rationality challenged by the strange occurrences going on around him. The layers of suspicion and superstition threaten to distract him from the truth. Fortunately, Holmes arrives in the nick of time to reveal the very real murderer lurking behind the suggestion of a supernatural hound, shining the light of reason on a mysterious case.
The inciting incident of the novel occurs with Mortimer’s visit to 22B Baker Street, where he comes to Holmes and Watson not with a clear case but a question as to whether a crime actually occurred. He is certain that Sir Charles Baskerville died of natural causes, but given the legend of the Baskervilles, the large dog footprints, and the proximity to the moors, even a man of science like Mortimer cannot help but question whether evil forces are at work. Nevertheless, while in London, all clues Holmes and Watson discover, such as the warning letter, the missing boot, and the stalker, point squarely to a human culprit. The culprit, however, outmaneuvers Holmes at every corner, making it clear to Holmes that he is dealing with an extremely cunning foe. These early events establish that Sir Henry’s life is in grave danger, setting high stakes and tension.
As Watson accompanies Sir Henry to Devon, the eerie atmosphere of the moors slowly makes the truth murkier. Doyle builds suspense with Holmes’s absence. Although Watson generally narrates the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes’s cryptic comments, such as observing that the stolen boot will likely be returned, guide the reader’s gaze toward which clues are the most important. With Watson’s reliable but less perceptive notes, the reader is also fully immersed in the moors, a place where a mire can eat a pony alive, or an escaped murderer can lurk in the shadows. In addition, the behavior of the moor’s residents seems suspicious and strange. John Barrymore abruptly informs Sir Henry that he intends to leave after years of service to the Baskerville family. The otherwise affable Mr. Stapleton suddenly lashes out furiously at Sir Henry over innocuously pursuing a courtship of Miss Stapleton, whom Sir Henry believes is Mr. Stapleton’s sister.
Watson does his best to discover the truth behind the hound, but his investigations turn up red herrings and more confusion. Even when the Barrymores reveal their relationship to the convict, Watson and Sir Henry’s pursuit of the convict leads only to hearing the eerie sound of the hound and the revelation of yet another mysterious figure hiding on the moor. Watson’s investigation of Laura Lyons initially appears to be a dead end. Fortunately, during this point in the investigation, Watson discovers Holmes has been hiding on the moors. Holmes has deduced that Mr. Stapleton is the culprit behind Sir Charles’s murder, however, without solid evidence, he cannot prove it. With the hound and local legend as his weapons, Mr. Stapleton has used the suggestive power of the moor as his ally in this crime.
Holmes’s final showdown with Mr. Stapleton pits modern detection against superstition in an exciting, climactic scene. Holmes brings Inspector Lestrade down from London for a stakeout in order to have irrefutable proof of Mr. Stapleton’s dark deeds. He then convinces Sir Henry to walk alone along the moor, setting an irresistible trap for Mr. Stapleton. Sure enough, Mr. Stapleton unleashes the hound on Sir Henry. As if the moor itself is on Mr. Stapleton’s side, a dense fog rolls in, nearly disrupting the entire plan and literally hiding Mr. Stapleton and his hound with its eerie mist. Fortunately, Holmes manages to catch up to Sir Henry and the pursuing hound and shoots it dead. When the fog lifts, it is clear that the hound is corporeal, a dog covered in phosphorescent paint. There is no curse, no creature from hell, only a man, a dog, and the very common motive of greed. Reason, scientific deduction, and civilization thus triumph over the mysterious and mythical. Holmes and Watson return to London triumphant, and there, far away from Baskerville Hall, Holmes is able to fill in the gaps of Watson’s understanding, as usual, wrapping up another exciting adventure.