Best Known Sherlock Holmes Stories

Elaine Sutton
• Wednesday, 04 November, 2020
• 9 min read

Until this story, he was the star of two short novels, A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890), and known to a small group of readers. After the short stories began to appear in The Strand, he became one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of literature.

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(Source: www.goodreads.com)


“I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again. The case will require Holmes not only to save his client’s life but to solve the mystery of how her sister died two years ago.

The story concerns a missing racehorse and sees Holmes donning his famous deerstalker to investigate. The mystery itself revolves around a Greek interpreter named Mr Meals, who is engaged in a rather cloak-and-dagger way to translate for someone who is being held captive by some sinister criminals.

Its code-themed story probably inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Gold-Bug’, ‘The Dancing Men’ is one of Holmes’s greatest code-breaking triumphs. Mr. Hilton Cubist of Riding Thorpe Manor in Norfolk, and husband to a nervous wife, tells Holmes a series of stick figures have started to appear chalked up on the window-sill of the house.

This story makes it into this list of the bestSherlockHolmesstories partly because it sees the great sleuth recounting his very first case, while still a student at university. Rather pleasingly, the story also appears to be the origin of the term ‘smoking gun’ to refer to an incontrovertibly incriminating piece of evidence.

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… It’s also noteworthy for being the one Sherlock Holmes story penned by Doyle to feature the evil criminal mastermind, Dr James Moriarty, ‘the Napoleon of crime’.

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(Source: downthetubes.net)

I’d long been intrigued by the idea of Sherlock, but wasn’t really spurred into reading the stories until we had Michael Sims on the podcast to talk about Arthur Conan Doyle and the creation of his archetypal sleuth. Some entries in the series are definitely better than others; for one thing, the final two published collections, His Last Bow and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, are universally regarded as lesser material.

Almost every story (outside those in The Case Book) is in the public domain; click the title of each to read them for free online! Scotland Yard investigator Lestrade (we never learn his first name) invites Holmes to consult on the case; though the budding detective initially feigns reluctance, his intellect won’t let him turn down the chance to solve a mystery.

Using the length of a novel rather than just a short story, and without the need for much expository ramp-up, Conan Doyle is able to fully explore the depths of the most head-scratching case in the series. Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead near his manor in the craggy moors of southern England.

There’s no outward evidence of murder, but there are suspicious signs, including the frozen look of horror on Baskerville’s face. There aren’t many clues to work from, except for an old legend about a monstrous hound that has attacked Baskerville heirs for generations.

Placed by “THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE,” it announced that “All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years” were eligible for a well-paying but nondescript job. Wilson showed up for the interview, was declared to have just the right hue of red in his locks, and was set to work copying the encyclopedia.

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(Source: www.speakingtigerbooks.com)

Though he takes a central role in only this one story (he’s reminisced about in others), no Shylockian villain is as nefarious as Professor James Moriarty; “He is the Napoleon of crime,” Sherlock tells Watson. On the eve of an important horse race, a prized thoroughbred, Silver Blaze, has gone missing, his trainer has been murdered, and some sheep in a nearby pasture have been found lame.

The famous exchange about “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” in fact inspired an excellent novel which used that line as the title. Some better-written Holmes stories are somewhat predictable, and some better plot lines aren’t as well written or structured; “The Silver Blaze” is one of those that combines all the best elements of Doyle’s work.

The beauty of the SherlockHolmesstories is that you’re sure to find one with a tone that appeals to you; there’s quite a range on a scale that runs from fun and playful to dark and twisted. The charming Miss Violet Hunter visits Holmes and asks his opinion on taking a job as a nanny which, though it pays well, also comes with a number of peculiar conditions, including cutting her hair short and wearing particular clothes.

This is another of Doyle’s more playful stories and involves the most memorable female character of the entire series; in Sherlock’s eyes, “she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” Holmes takes the case, thinking it’ll be a piece of cake to trick the woman and retrieve the photograph.

This story has as memorable a start as you’ll find in the canon: a young lawyer, John McFarlane, comes into Holmes office knowing full well he’s going to be arrested and charged with murder. We also see a fuller picture of Lestrade in this story; rather than just begrudging competition, the relationship between him and Holmes seems to flourish into real comradeship.

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(Source: www.barnesandnoble.com)

He buys seedy letters and photographs and then sells them to whoever the highest bidder is, regardless of whose lives are destroyed in the process. Holmes is enlisted in the fight against Silverton by Lady Eva Blackwell, who’s keen on retrieving some compromising documents.

Silverton is as dastardly a fellow as London has ever seen, and though Holmes is aware of him, he hasn’t had the chance to nail down evidence of his breaking the law; this is his opportunity, and he leaps at it. The reader gets the gift of clever disguises, a false engagement, breaking and entering, safe-cracking, and as surprising an ending as you’ll come across in these stories.

Jane Austen's Practical Concerns About Marriage Are Still Relevant I wasn’t the type of young person to seek out Jane Austen on my own. As a character in the public domain, Sherlock Holmes has appeared in countless short stories, books, plays, movies, TV shows, comics, and presumably interpretive dances.

But I have a soft spot for the original 56 short stories and four novels written by Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a public service, I present to you this definitive ranking of all 60 canonical SherlockHolmesstories and novels from worst to best.

I just can’t get down with a story about the sinister uncanny valley aura of, um, a little black girl. Not to spoil a 97-year-old story, but this one is about a guy who is injecting himself with extract of monkey to woo a much younger woman, which, uh, okay.

sherlock holmes goodreads annotated books short stories doyle
(Source: www.goodreads.com)

The weirdest part is when Holmes worry that this will lead to a nation of monkey extract addicts. The later Holmes stories tend to be extremely implausible and silly, but this particular one is not improved by the addition of ethnic stereotypes and the inescapably murderous nature of a *checks notes* disabled child.

Instead, it’s a technically crime-free case of a man disguising himself as a beggar because he can make more money that way (uh, citation needed, ACD). The best of the Watsonless stories, if only because Holmes yells “BEHOLD!” and then kills a jellyfish with a rock.

There’s some clever back volleying and forth with a doctor with a mysterious agenda of his own in this one, but gosh, the end is sad. The actual mystery here is fairly implausible, although less so given how little Victorians knew how to deal with any animal more exotic than a badger, but the end is so striking in its pathos and Holmes’s helpless compassion that it makes this otherwise rather “ripped from the tabloids!” story quite moving.

A perfectly serviceable little mystery, with the added bonus of Holmes threatening to horsewhip a cad. Really just a retread of “The Second Stain” but with addition of the second cleverest method of disposing of dead bodies in the canon.

So silly and implausible even Holmes and Watson get the giggles over it; plus, as a redhead myself, I think I’m duty bound to feel a fondness for this one. Any story that begins with severed ears in a box getting mailed to the wrong person has to be good.

holmes complete sherlock ilustrated novels spionase
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Good deductive work from Holmes, arrogant bungling from Lestrade, and star-crossed young lovers who get a happy ending. Not only did this give us the classic “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” exchange (and subsequent book titles, Poirot references, etc.

The first Sherlock Holmes story ever published has a lot to like, including two juicy murders, baby Holmes and Watson meeting for the first time, and the sadly underutilized Baker Street Irregulars. I don’t even so much mind the interminable digression about the sinister, all-encompassing power of, um, Mormons.

Baby Holmes + treasure hunt for the crown of the Stuarts + sexy sinister butler + murderous scorned lover + algebra? A heartwarming holiday story in which Holmes and Watson attempt to trace the origins of a Christmas goose with a purloined precious stone inside it.

Look: ACD invented Moriarty as a hastily conceived way to kill off his own most hated creation, and “the Napoleon of crime” is wildly overused in adaptations for a character who had zero actual thought put into him. But Watson’s recreation of Holmes’s dramatic death gets me where I live every time, so I don’t even care.

The locked room mystery and dramatic climax of this story are good, but they’re still second fiddle to Holmes coming back to life and Watson literally fainting about it. A twisty little whodunit, a spirited heroine in Annie Harrison, an opportunity for Holmes to both brawl and be ludicrously melodramatic when he serves the recovered treaty disguised as a breakfast dish, and a hilariously weird digression where he deduces the existence of God from how flowers are pretty.

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(Source: www.tabletopgamingnews.com)

Like many of the later stories, this one is lurid and implausible, but it gets a relatively high placement for the intense scene where Holmes and Watson deliberately give themselves a bad trip and then lie on the grass talking about how much they love each other. The titular cyclist, Violet Smith, is admirably spunky, and I like to see Watson getting some solo detective work in this story, even if he bungles it.

Holmes solves exactly zero mysteries in this story but who cares when he’s breathing heavily into Watson’s ear behind a curtain while a noblewoman murders a scoundrel? The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking.

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