Best Sherlock Holmes Short Stories

Brent Mccoy
• Wednesday, 16 December, 2020
• 10 min read

The adventures of Doyle’s iconic detective proved a craze from the start, and since then, no character has been as reproduced and adapted in film, television, stage, and the printed word. 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.

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From the numerous twists and turns, to a fun trip to America’s Western frontier, to the delightful construction of the characters’ charms and personalities, and finally to the unforgettable conclusion, I can’t think of a better introduction to a detective series than A Study in Scarlet. 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.

Label Wilson, a man with flaming red hair, consults with Holmes about a mysterious job he took in reply to a want ad in the newspaper. 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. 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.

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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.

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. 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.

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As with most of the best Holmes story, it also contains a valuable piece of advice for everyday life: never take the first taxi that presents itself, nor the second but the third. It starts in classical fashion, with a stray object (a hat) in need of Holmes deductive powers, and ends up romping through Convent Garden and all the way to Brixton, in order to solve the case of a missing jewel.

Our heroes even visit a pub, The Alpha Inn, that still exists to this day (known now as The Museum Tavern) and it contains a superb example of Holmes easy cunning with members of the public, as well as his natural sense of justice and clemency. Conan Doyle cited this as one of his favorite stories, let down only by a slight mistake in the rendering of rules for entering horses into races.

Watson goes searching for a friend in the opium dens of east London and finds more than he bargained for. When Mrs St. Clair finds herself lost down a grubby and dangerous street in the East End, she suddenly sees her respectable businessman husband at a high window.

But there’s only an old beggar in the room while Neville St Clair’s clothes (including his coat full of coins) are found. Holmes is called in to solve the case in an atmospheric tale of London, the rich and poor, high finance and low cunning.

Inspired by a story Doyle heard from his friend, the sportsman and journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson, about the legends surrounding a seventeenth-century squire, The Hound of the Baskerville is one of the best -known Sherlock Holmes cases, featuring supposedly demonic hounds on atmospheric Dartmoor. 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.

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After the short stories began to appear in The Strand, he became one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of literature. SherlockHolmes’s quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances.

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.” “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. Like many of the SherlockHolmesstories, the British Empire lurks in the background (Dr Boycott had met the girls’ mother out in India, and has a menagerie of exotic animals from that country), and in this connection, the story also reveals a debt to one of the first detective novels, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.

Perhaps best -known for Holmes’s famous line about ‘the curious incident of the dog in the night-time’ (used by Mark Had don as the title for his bestselling novel), ‘Silver Blaze’ is the first story in the second collection of classic SherlockHolmesstories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893). The story concerns a missing racehorse and sees Holmes donning his famous deerstalker to investigate.

I put the question, with a hint that it was my companion’s modesty which made him acknowledge his brother as his superior. 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.

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(Source: www.amazon.com)

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’.

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.

Also in third person, for some reason, but losing Watson’s narration drains all the life out of these stories. I just can’t get down with a story about the sinister uncanny valley aura of, um, a little black girl.

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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. The weirdest part is when Holmes worry that this will lead to a nation of monkey extract addicts.

The opium den setting of the opening scenes of this story promises a seedy, fog-shrouded mystery that never materializes. 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. The mystery is good, even if snakes don’t work that way, but this story is absolutely riddled with anti-Romani prejudice and the g-slur, and I can’t sign off on that.

Holmes makes the brilliant deduction that only a very tall man could see into a very high window! I’ve always found this story a bit depressing, and it suffers from being in third person, but at least Holmes grows a goatee.

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.

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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. We also get Holmes’s baffling prediction that someday the U.S. and UK will merge to form a giant colonialist super-country, just sort of sprinkled in there for flavor.

I’m discovering an unexpectedly bloodthirsty streak in my nature while making this list, but hey, if we’re solving crimes here, let’s have thumbs be cut off with hatchets every once in a while! 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.

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.

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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. 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. I’m on the record as stating that I think Irene Adler’s influence in adaptations is disproportionate to her original canon page time, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s a badass.

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