I have a confession to make: for an author of a Victorian-era-based mystery novel, I have not read nearly enough of the classic mysteries of that era. I have not read Edgar Allen Poe. I have not read Wilkie Collins, although I have recently started on The Moonstone. And I’ve read only two titles from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Scandal in Bohemia, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The first time I picked up Hound, I didn’t finish it, and looking back, I can’t really figure out why, because the beginning is excellent. Holmes and Watson are in the kitchen, and Watson is studying a walking stick that was left behind by a visitor they missed the previous day, called James Mortimer. Holmes, who has his back turned to Watson, asks: “What do you make of this?” Watson exclaims that Holmes must have eyes in the back of his head, and Holmes answers that he has a highly-polished, silver-plated coffee pot in front of him. (And people wonder where Hollywood got the bad habit of portraying Watson as a bumbling idiot.) Watson makes some guesses, Holmes corrects all of Watson’s guesses, and then Mr. Mortimer arrives and proves Holmes mostly right. (Holmes had guessed that the walking stick had been a graduation present, when it was a wedding present.) And then I stopped reading. I can only guess that I figured ‘this can’t possibly get any better’.
I did eventually finish the book, and enjoy it very much to this day. I probably should tell more about the story, but I won’t. You should just read it anyway. Or at least read the Wikipedia article; it covers everything well enough. I will only add this: as good as the novel is, the beginning of chapter one might still be the best part, all in all.