(Originally posted to my blog: November 3, 2011)
Sixty stories. Nine books. That’s a lot of reading to get through, and it’s a very small portion of the ink spilled over Sherlock Holmes outside of Doyle. So, which ones are the best?
Well, in 1927, Doyle himself selected that he thought were the best of his short stories in an essay for Strand Magazine. He picked twelve stories and ordered them from most to least favorite. Later he then added seven more, for a total of nineteen:
- “The Speckled Band”
- “The Red-Headed League”
- “The Dancing Men”
- “The Final Problem”
- “A Scandal in Bohemia”
- “The Empty House”
- “The Five Orange Pips”
- “The Second Stain”
- “The Devil’s Foot”
- “The Priory School”
- “The Musgrave Ritual”
- “The Reigate Squires”
- “Silver Blaze”
- “The Bruce-Partington Plans”
- “The Crooked Man”
- “The Man with the Twisted Lip”
- “The Greek Interpreter”
- “The Resident Patient”
- “The Naval Treaty”
As for me, let’s say that I disagree with some of Doyle’s choices. I have my own list of favorites.
Of the novels, the best is far and away The Hound of the Baskervilles. There’s a reason why it’s the book most people know of when they think of Holmes, and why the deerstalker hat is so well known (even if it only shows up in this book and one or two other places).
Of the short stories, I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten (and let me tell you, I shuffled these around for the past twelve months). These aren’t necessarily the stories I would encourage a new reader to pick up, but rather the ones that I find myself reading over and over:
- “A Scandal in Bohemia”: Although the first two novels predate this story, I feel this is where Doyle really finds his feet with Holmes.
- “The Final Problem”/”The Empty House”: Yes, I’m cheating here, but I really feel these are both one connected story, and they also comprise most of the canonical references to Moriarty. Absolutely gripping stories.
- “The Blue Carbuncle”: The first place where I deviate from Doyle, but for purely personal reasons. This story is such a part of my childhood that I can’t possibly be rational about it.
- “The Red-Headed League”: Doyle uses this plot a few times throughout the canon, but the first time is, to me, the best.
- “The Musgrave Ritual”: The actual ritual is used in various Sherlockian societies, and it’s very likely the seed for the cliche of “the butler did it.”
- “Charles Augustus Milverton”: The other place where I disagree with Doyle. Milverton is probably the second-best villain in the canon.
- “The Second Stain”: Probably the best example of the Lestrade/Holmes dynamic.
- “The Bruce-Partington Plans”: Big use of Mycroft, a great spy story, and a good companion to “The Second Stain.”
- “The Devil’s Foot”: The story isn’t always the best, but the powerful exploration of the friendship between Holmes and Watson is just too good.
- “Silver Blaze”: I had a tough time between this and “The Five Orange Pips,” but the tracking scene and some of the dialogue just manages to put this into the top ten for me.