In Depth

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's seven best Sherlock Holmes stories

As we celebrate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 159th birthday, here are the finest outings of his famed detective creation

Few literary characters have staying power that can match Sherlock Holmes. Since his debut in a short story over 130 years ago, tales of the detective’s almost superhuman ability to solve mysteries - along with his biting wit and thoroughly British charm - have enraptured the public’s imagination and spawned numerous reboots and remakes.

Although Holmes has become a flashy, flamboyant TV detective, fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might argue that few of the modern iterations can stand up to the original stories, penned by the Scottish author between 1887 and 1927.

Today marks what would have been Doyle’s 159th birthday and, to commemorate his works, here are seven of the best Sherlock Holmes stories:

A Study in Scarlet, 1887

What better place to start than with the first Holmes story itself? A Study in Scarlet tells the story of how Dr Watson, a returning veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, meets and eventually becomes roommates with Holmes, a “consulting detective” working in London. 

“Doyle’s characters are still taking shape in this first tale,” writes Signature Reads, “but it’s truly essential to set up the rest of the stories. In it, we learn how the pair came to meet and work together, and are introduced to Sherlock’s idiosyncratic and ingenious ways.”

The Sign of the Four, 1890

The second full novel featuring Holmes and Watson details how Watson came to be married, which Signature Reads describes as “a key point in the relationship between the two men”, as Watson is somewhat of a domesticated man - a stark contrast to Holmes’s highly independent personality.

A detective story about double-crossing, betrayal and greed, The Sign of the Four is “superbly constructed and compelling, complete with poison darts, a disputed legacy, and an exciting chase down the Thames”, writes The Guardian, which picked it as one of the 100 Best Novels in the English Language in 2015.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band, 1892

One of the most innovative and amusing early stories was The Adventure of the Speckled Band, which is available as one of the 12 stories that make up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection.

The Speckled Band is what is known as a “locked-room mystery” - one in which a murder has been committed in a way that, at first viewing, appears to make no logical sense, such as a crime scene with no indication as to how the intruder could have entered or left.

Not only is The Speckled Band a firm fan favourite, writes SherlockHolmes.co.uk, but Doyle himself even declared it the finest Holmes story in a list he published in The Strand Magazine in 1927.

The Adventure of Silver Blaze, 1892

Perhaps best-known for Holmes’s famous line about “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” - used by Mark Haddon as the title for his bestselling novel in 2003 - Silver Blaze focuses on the disappearance of the eponymous race horse (a famous winner) on the eve of an important race and on the apparent murder of its trainer.

Silver Blaze is notable for its wonderfully atmospheric setting on Dartmoor, as well as fascinating insights into sporting events in Victorian England.

This is the first offering in the second collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

The Adventure of the Reigate Squire, 1893

This story also made it into Doyle’s own list of his favourite Sherlock Holmes stories because he thought it was the story in which, “on the whole, Holmes himself shows perhaps the most ingenuity”, Interesting Literature writes.

While recovering from a taxing case in France, Holmes travels to Surrey where he ends up “investigating a series of mysterious burglaries involving a note written by two different people”, says the site.

The story can also be found in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

The Final Problem, 1893

One of the best-known Sherlock Holmes stories, The Final Problem at the time served as something of a climax to the series, as it tells the story of Holmes’s life-and-death battle with Professor James Moriarty atop a Swiss waterfall.

Moriarty is the arch-nemesis of Holmes, described by the detective as the “Napoleon of crime” and the only man to match him in wit. 

The Final Problem appears as the last story in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1902

The third of four novel-length Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles marked the surprise return of our dapper hero after a nine-year absence following the dramatic denouement of The Final Problem - the details of which we won’t spoil for you.

Penned by Doyle after considering retiring the character, this is one of the best-known Holmes books, and upon publication was “so fabulously popular that ultimately Doyle was offered so much money he couldn’t refuse to produce more Sherlock Holmes stories”, Five Books writes.

Featuring secret military research stations, hellhounds and, again, Dartmoor, the book is a sharp, wit-fuelled tale, but also one of Doyle’s darkest involving the detective, The Guardian writes.

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda said of reading The Hound of the Baskervilles as a child: “I shivered with pleasure and realised that life didn’t get much better than that.”

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