1. A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet is the novel which first introduced Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Dr. John Watson, a medical doctor has recently returned to London after suffering serious injury and illness as part of the Army Medical Department deployed to Afghanistan. In precarious health and even more precarious financial straits, he’s looking for cheap lodgings when a friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes. The pair agree to share the rent of a flat Holmes has found.
Watson is baffled by his companion’s strange nature, his peculiar interests, his unusual breadth of knowledge in certain fields alongside his shocking ignorance in others, and his many strange visitors. Only later does Watson discover that Holmes has set himself up as the world’s first ‘consulting detective’. It’s not long before Watson finds himself assisting Holmes in a mysterious case. The body of a man has been found in an abandoned house, without wounds or other marks of injury. But on the wall, scrawled in blood, is the word RACHE. The subsequent unravelling of the mystery takes many unexpected turns.
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories Conan Doyle published in book form, following the popular success of the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. The collection contains twelve stories, all originally published in The Strand Magazine between July 1891 and June 1892. Narrated by the first-person voice of Dr. Watson, they involve him and Holmes solving a series of mysterious cases.
Some of the more well-known stories in this collection are ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, in which Holmes comes up against a worthy opponent in the form of Irene Adler, whom Holmes forever after admiringly refers to as the woman. ‘The Redheaded League’ involves a bizarre scheme offering a well-paid sinecure to redheaded men. In ‘The Speckled Band’ Holmes and Watson save a young woman from a terrible death.
3. The Sign of the Four
The Sign of the Four, initially titled just The Sign of Four, is the second of Doyle’s novels to feature Sherlock Holmes and his companion and chronicler Dr. Watson. The action takes place not long after the events in A Study in Scarlet. Holmes is consulted by a young woman about a strange communication she has received. Ten years previously her father Captain Morstan went missing the night after returning from service in the Far East before his daughter could travel to meet him. He has never been seen or heard of ever since.
But a few years after his disappearance, Miss Morstan was startled to receive a precious pearl in the mail, with no sender’s name or address and no accompanying message. A similar pearl has arrived each subsequent year. Finally, she received an anonymous letter begging her to come to a meeting outside a London theater that very evening. She may bring two companions. Naturally, Holmes and Watson accompany the young woman to the mysterious meeting, and are subsequently involved in the unveiling of a complex story of treasure and betrayal.
4. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1927, collects the final set of Sherlock Holmes stories authored by Arthur Conan Doyle. As usual, the mysteries generally purport to be accounts written by Holmes’s friend Dr. John Watson. Uniquely, however, three stories in the Casebook are presented from alternative points of view. ‘The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone’ is narrated in the third person, since it was adapted from a stage play in which Watson hardly appeared. ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’ and ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’ are both narrated by Holmes himself, the latter being set after his retirement as a detective.
5. The Valley of Fear
6. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1894, is the second collection of Sherlock Holmes stories published in book form. This collection has several memorable features. The first British edition omitted the story “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” which appeared in The Strand in 1893. This story did appear in the very first American edition of the collection, immediately following “Silver Blaze,” but it was quickly replaced by a revised edition which omitted it.
Apparently these omissions were at the specific request of the author, who was concerned that its inclusion of the theme of adultery would make it unsuitable for younger readers. The story was, however, eventually included in the later collection His Last Bow, but it is out of chronological position there. In this edition (as in most modern British editions), we have included this story to restore it to its correct chronological place in the Holmes canon.
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is also notable because by this time Doyle had tired of the Holmes character and decided to kill him off, so that this was intended to be the last Holmes collection ever to be published. It contains several of the best-known Holmes stories, including ‘Silver Blaze’, ‘The Musgrave Ritual’, and ‘The Greek Interpreter’ which introduces Sherlock’s brother Mycroft; and of course ‘The Final Problem’ in which Holmes struggles with his nemesis Professor Moriarty.
7. The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the third collection of Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1905. It includes stories published in The Strand Magazine in 1903 and 1904, bringing Holmes for the first time into the twentieth century.
Doyle had memorably killed off Holmes in a struggle with his nemesis Professor Moriarty in the story ‘The Final Problem’, which had appeared in 1893 (and which is included in the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes). Intense public demand for more Holmes material after that had led to Doyle writing the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, and then finally to return to writing Holmes short stories once more. The first story in this collection, ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ finds Dr. Watson united once again with his old friend Sherlock, who explains how and why he faked his death at Reichenbach Falls.
Apart from the leading story which resurrects Holmes, this collection contains a number of the best-known Holmes stories. ‘The Adventure of the Dancing Men’ has Holmes deciphering a cryptogram to solve a mystery; encountering a callous blackmailer in ‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’, working out why cheap busts of Napoleon are being shattered all over London; and possibly averting a major European war in ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain.’
8. His Last Bow
His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes is the fourth collection of Sherlock Holmes stories published by Arthur Conan Doyle. It begins with a preface by Dr. John Watson, supposedly written in 1917, assuring the reader that Holmes is still alive but living in quiet retirement in Sussex.
This collection contains the well-known stories ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,’ in which Holmes has to track down stolen plans for a new kind of submarine; and ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’ in which a Cornish family is found one morning driven mad or dead, with expressions of horror on their faces. The titular story ‘His Last Bow’ is set on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War, and involves Holmes and Watson coming out of retirement to defeat a German spy.
9. The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles, serialized in 1901–1902, was the third novel featuring Holmes and Watson. Sherlock Holmes is consulted in his Baker Street apartment by Dr. Mortimer, a physician now living on the fringes of Dartmoor. He gives Holmes and Watson an account of a centuries-old legend, in which a hell-hound slaughtered the debauched heir of the Baskerville family who had been in lecherous pursuit of an innocent maiden across the moor. The same hound is reputed to have harrowed several of the subsequent heirs to the estate.
This ancient story might be dismissed as mere fancy, but for the fact that the elderly Sir Charles Baskerville recently died in mysterious circumstances, apparently fleeing in terror from something which came from the moor. Dr. Mortimer is concerned that the new heir, Sir Henry, just returned from Canada, may be at risk from this supernatural beast. Holmes is intrigued, but being too busy to go himself, sends Dr. Watson to accompany Sir Henry to the ancestral home on Dartmoor and to report anything suspicious.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is arguably the best, and certainly the most popular, of Doyle’s novels featuring his iconic detective. It has been translated into almost every language in the world and been the basis of dozens of movies (starting as early as 1914), radio plays and comic books.