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Arthur Conan Doyle
(The scientific minds of Holmes and Watson are tested by howls on the moor, the legend of a fiery hell-hound, and a giant pawprint next to a dead nobleman.)
A novel-length Sherlock Holmes mystery! The readers of the Strand Magazine must have been delighted. They must have vigorously discussed with each other the prospects of the case between installments. Releasing a detective story by degrees has got to be risky, since the readers have so much time to figure everything out. There are enough threads interwoven in this story, though, and enough minor details that must be incorporated into a solution, that I suspect almost everyone will be surprised at something in the denouement. Besides, we would need a healthy dose of luck to solve the riddle ourselves, for there are crucial elements about which we can only guess during the narration. These are revealed to us only after Holmes has discovered them and solved the case in his mind. In this way, Doyle all but ensures that competition with the sleuth is beyond our grasp.
Although the most haunting aspect of the typical Sherlock Holmes case is nothing more than the dense fog of pipe smoke around the detective’s chair, Doyle did have an interest in spiritualism, and wrote a few books on the subject. In The Hound of the Baskervilles he combines these two interests by infusing the tale with a strong atmosphere of macabre otherworldliness. Probably more than the facts of the case or its solution, the damp darkness and chilling moans of the moor are likely to remain with us long after we have finished reading the book.
(The fortunes of a strong-willed hay-trusser prove to be as volatile as he is.)
Michael Henchard is an unemployed field laborer who, under the influence of rum at a fair, impulsively starts to auction off his wife and baby daughter, to much laughter. His wife stands. A hush falls as a sailor actually puts five guineas on the table.
“Now,” said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low dry voice sounded quite loud, “before you go further, Michael, listen to me. If you touch that money, I and this girl go with the man. Mind, it is a joke no longer.”
But Henchard will not be shamed or threatened. When he says something he means it! And so minutes later he sits there blinking away his disbelief as Susan, with little Elizabeth-Jane, walks away with a stranger. Thus begins The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character. Here we see how a person’s destiny is shaped by the interaction of external forces and internal qualities– the world and the self. Take one part circumstance, add one part decision, repeat continually towards success or failure.