Arthur Conan Doyle Names His 19 Favorite Sherlock Holmes Stories


Sher­lock Holmes has become such a cul­tur­al fix­ture since he first appeared in print that all of us have sure­ly, at one time or anoth­er, con­sid­ered read­ing through the Lon­don detec­tive’s com­plete case files. But where to start? One can always begin at the begin­ning with that first print appear­ance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 nov­el A Study in Scar­let. But how best to progress through the Sher­lock Holmes canon, a body of 56 short sto­ries and four nov­els (and that num­ber count­ing only the mate­r­i­al writ­ten by Conan Doyle him­self), some more essen­tial than oth­ers?

You might con­sid­er read­ing the adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes accord­ing to the pref­er­ences of Sher­lock Holmes’ cre­ator. We know these pref­er­ences because of a 1927 com­pe­ti­tion in The Strand Mag­a­zine, where the char­ac­ter’s pop­u­lar­i­ty first blew up, which asked read­ers to name the twelve best Sher­lock Holmes sto­ries. They asked Conan Doyle the same ques­tion, and the list he came up with runs as fol­lows:

  1. “The Adven­ture of the Speck­led Band” (“a grim sto­ry” that “I am sure will be on every list”)
  2. “The Red­head­ed League”
  3. “The Adven­ture of the Danc­ing Men” (due, as with “The Red­head­ed League,” to “the orig­i­nal­i­ty of the plot”)
  4. “The Final Prob­lem” (“we could hard­ly leave out the sto­ry which deals with the only foe who ever real­ly extend­ed Holmes, and which deceived the pub­lic (and Wat­son) into the erro­neous infer­ence of his death”)
  5. “A Scan­dal in Bohemia” (since, as the first short sto­ry in the series, “it opened the path for the oth­ers,” and “it has more female inter­est than is usu­al”)
  6. “The Adven­ture of the Emp­ty House” (“the sto­ry which ess­says the dif­fi­cult task of explain­ing away the alleged death of Holmes”)
  7. “The Five Orange Pips” (“though it is short it has a cer­tain dra­mat­ic qual­i­ty of its own”)
  8. “The Adven­ture of the Sec­ond Stain” (for its treat­ment of “high diplo­ma­cy and intrigue”)
  9. The Adven­ture of the Devil’s Foot” (“grim and new”)
  10. “The Adven­ture of the Pri­o­ry School” (“worth a place if only for the dra­mat­ic moment when Holmes points his fin­ger at the Duke”)
  11. “The Mus­grave Rit­u­al” (for its inclu­sion of “a his­tor­i­cal touch which gives it a lit­tle added dis­tinc­tion” and “a mem­o­ry from Holmes’ ear­ly life”)
  12. “The Reigate Squires” (in which “on the whole, Holmes him­self shows per­haps the most inge­nu­ity”)

He lat­er added sev­en more favorites, includ­ing some he’d writ­ten after The Strand’s con­test took place:

  1. “Sil­ver Blaze”
  2. “The Adven­ture of the Bruce-Part­ing­ton Plans”
  3. “The Crooked Man”
  4. “The Man with the Twist­ed Lip”
  5. “The Greek Inter­preter”
  6. “The Res­i­dent Patient”
  7. “The Naval Treaty”

“When this com­pe­ti­tion was first moot­ed I went into it in a most light-heart­ed way,” wrote Conan Doyle, “think­ing that it would be the eas­i­est thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes sto­ries. In prac­tice I found that I had engaged myself in a seri­ous task.” And those who call them­selves Sher­lock Holmes enthu­si­asts know that, though they may have begun read­ing the sto­ries with an equal­ly light heart, they soon found them­selves going deep­er and deep­er into Holmes’ world in a much more seri­ous way than they’d expect­ed. Start­ing with Conan Doyle’s selec­tions may set you down the very same path; when you final­ly come out the oth­er side, feel free to name your own top twelve sto­ries in the com­ments below.

For a quick way to read Conan Doyle’s Sher­lock Holmes sto­ries, get The Com­plete Sher­lock Holmes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load the Com­plete Sher­lock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mas­ter­piece

Arthur Conan Doyle Dis­cuss­es Sher­lock Holmes and Psy­chics in a Rare Filmed Inter­view (1927)

Hear the Voice of Arthur Conan Doyle After His Death

Read the Lost Sher­lock Holmes Sto­ry That Was Just Dis­cov­ered in an Attic in Scot­land

Watch John Cleese as Sher­lock Holmes in The Strange Case of the End of Civ­i­liza­tion as We Know It

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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