Sherlock Holmes statue in London, England/Photo © Shutterstock
“Elementary,” “Sherlock,” “House,” “Sherlock Holmes”: These are just some of the more obvious adaptations of the great series of work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made in recent years. If you are a fan of any one of these, or if you are simply looking to dive into classic literature that has shaped detective-storytelling for decades, here is a cheat sheet for the must-read stories from Doyle’s fantastic collection of works.
1. A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet
If you want to acquaint yourself with Sherlock Holmes and his partner-in-crime-solving, Dr. John Watson, you should really start at the beginning. Doyle’s characters are still taking shape in this first tale, 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.
2. The Sign of Four
The Sign of Four
Also a good place to start, “The Sign of Four” explains how Watson came to be married: a key point in the relationship between the two men. Watson as the domesticated man is a stark contrast to Holmes’s independent and disconnected nature, and is often depicted in – and at the core of – various adaptations of Doyle’s work.
3. The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
A Scandal in Bohemia
The first story in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this may not be Doyle’s longest tale, but it has left quite a lasting impression as the only piece to reference “The Woman” Irene Adler. Doyle’s stories frequently refer to “women’s intuition” and many of his female characters are perceived as quite clever (if not, perhaps, untrustworthy), but only Adler has gone on to be repeatedly portrayed in television and films as one of the people held highest in Holmes’s esteem. For anyone interested in the character’s origins, “A Scandal in Bohemia” is essential.
Other stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes worth noting are: The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Man With the Twisted Lip, The Speckled Band, and The Copper Beeches.
4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Final Problem
Brought to the reader in the final story of the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarty is considered to be the arch-nemesis of detective hero Sherlock Holmes. He is described by Holmes as the “Napoleon of crime” and the only man to match him in wit. Simply put, no list of Holmes must-reads would be complete without the tight but significant story of their battle at the falls of Reichenbach.
Other stories from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes to consider adding to your list are The Gloria Scott, The Greek Interpreter, and The Naval Treaty.
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Written after The Final Problem but set before, The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably Doyle’s most famous Holmes adventure and therefore should not be missed. Rather than a short, Hound is a longer novel like A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four and an enjoyable romp of a mystery that stands alone better than any other Holmes work.
6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Empty House
For reasons that shall not be spoiled for newbies, Watson goes several years without documenting Holmes’s cases. The two are finally reunited in this first story of the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes. You will be delighted by Watson’s joyful reaction to his friend’s reappearance, and this short will lead you directly into a new series of adventures for the pair including The Dancing Men and The Three Students.
7. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
The Three Garridebs
In the final collection of short Holmes stories, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, lies a small narrative called The Three Garridebs. The case itself is not necessarily the most fascinating of Doyle’s work, but it is in this particular story, when Watson is suddenly injured, that Sherlock’s true affection for his only friend is revealed. It is a lovely note on which to end such a wonderful anthology of works, as it is really where the stories began: a surprising, and perfect, friendship. And that is why the small tale should find its way to your must-reads.
There are a great deal more Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson stories beyond what we’ve featured on this list, and all are worth exploring. These choice titles, however, should not be skipped and will offer the perfect introduction to Doyle’s sharp and highly revered world. If you’re a smart reader looking for something classic but fun, the decision to start these delightful tales should be rather, well, elementary.