The 10 Best Sherlock Holmes Stories

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story, The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes is introduced as a junior member of the detective force. In his first case he finds himself against a master criminal who has an uncanny ability to change identities and it quickly becomes evident that not all is what it seems. What makes this story so compelling?

In his long career as detective, consulting detective, and author of the stories that make up the Sherlock Holmes canon (16 short tales), Arthur Conan Doyle wrote more than 500,000 words about this famous sleuth. What are some of the best stories in which he or any other character is involved?

The “best sherlock holmes stories ranked” is a list of the 10 best Sherlock Holmes stories. The list includes both the original and modern adaptations of these stories.

Book cover of Sherlock Holmes Stories book cover a man holding magnifier and pipe in his mouth.

Arthur Conan Doyle authored 60 Sherlock Holmes adventures in the form of four short novels and 56 short stories over the span of 40 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (which are generally published in five separate collections). Doyle’s legendary detective’s escapades were a craze from the start, and no figure has been more replicated and reinterpreted in cinema, television, theatre, and the written word since. 

I’d always been captivated by the notion of Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t until we had Michael Sims on the show to speak about Arthur Conan Doyle and the development of his iconic detective that I felt compelled to read the tales. I began with The Scarlet Study, the earliest published book, and rapidly progressed through the remaining 59 pieces. Not just the mystery, but also the people, drew me in right away. Watson’s loyalty and faith in Sherlock are noble, and Sherlock’s hesitant need on Watson’s company is touching. Though Doyle only adds a few fresh personal information to each story, the characters’ personalities are fleshed out more than you may imagine throughout the course of the tales.

Sketch of Holmes gossiping.

Some of the books in the series are clearly superior than others; for example, the last two published collections, His Last Bow and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, are widely considered to be inferior. While reading the entire canon isn’t a waste of time — you might become so attached to the characters that you can’t help but do so! — if you’d like to jump into a more curated set of recommendations, I’ve listed my top 10 picks below: two novels and eight stories drawn from the first three short story collections. 

Except for those in The Case Book, almost every tale is in the public domain; click the title of each to read it for free online! 

A Study in Scarlet 

Sketch of a A Study in Scarlet.

A Study in Scarlet is unquestionably the place to begin for any new Sherlock Holmes reader. The blind meeting of Mr. Holmes, amateur detective, and his new roommate, Dr. John Watson, could not be a better introduction. Watson is tidy, inquisitive, and competent at his job, but otherwise unimpressive, as they shortly discover. (However, he does supply Holmes with some much-needed adulation.) When it comes to investigative work, Sherlock is a genius, but he is clueless about the rest of the world. He may be chilly, distant, and egregiously arrogant, but only rarely in a spiteful manner. Watson, maybe unexpectedly for the novice Sherlockian, is swiftly proven to be the more lovable character. 

Watson’s first case includes a murder in an abandoned home with the word “RACHE” scrawled on the wall. Lestrade (whose first name is never revealed) asks Holmes to consult on the case, and despite his initial hesitation, the young detective’s brain won’t allow him pass up the opportunity to solve a riddle. 

Throughout the story, there are several examples of Holmes’ famous approach, which depends on the investigator’s superlative wits and inductive reasoning abilities rather than the criminals’ faults, as had been the case in prior detective fiction. It is not that the criminals are stupid throughout the whole canon; it is that Holmes is smarter. 

 

I can’t think of a greater start to a detective series than A Study in Scarlet, with its countless twists and turns, exciting excursion to America’s Western frontier, lovely creation of the characters’ charms and personalities, and ultimately, the memorable climax. 

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

 

The Hound of Baskervilles novel.

While A Study in Scarlet is an excellent introduction to Holmes and Watson, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best tale in the series. Conan Doyle is able to completely investigate the depths of the most perplexing case in the series by using the length of a book rather than a short tale, and without the necessity for much explanatory ramp-up. 

In the mountainous moors of southern England, Sir Charles Baskerville is discovered dead near his estate. There is no obvious proof of murder, but there are suspicious indicators, such as Baskerville’s frozen expression of terror. Except for an ancient tale about a terrible dog that has been attacking Baskerville heirs for years, there aren’t many clues to go on. 

The varied literary methods are part of the excitement of this narrative; between eyewitness experiences, diary entries, and Watson’s dispatches to Holmes, the reader gradually pieces together what’s going on. The last piece of the puzzle, however, can only be placed by Holmes himself. 

Is it possible that the answer lies in the supernatural? You’ll have to read the story to find out what happens. 

“The League of the Red-Headed” 

We’ve arrived in the world of the short narrative. Jabez Wilson, a guy with fiery red hair, seeks Holmes’ advice on a mystery job he accepted in response to a newspaper ad. “ALL RED-HEADED MEN WHO ARE SOUND IN BODY AND MIND AND OVER THE AGE OF TWENTY-ONE YEAR” were eligible for a well-paying but uninteresting profession, according to “THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE.” 

Wilson arrived for the interview, was told he had the perfect shade of red in his hair, and was immediately put to work duplicating the encyclopedia. He returned to the office after finishing the “A’s,” only to find a notice on the door that said, “THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED.” 

What exactly is going on? There’s got to be more to these odd circumstances than meets the eye. A puzzle like this can only be solved by Sherlock Holmes. Doyle demonstrates the lighter, more whimsical side of his mystery-writing abilities in this tale. 

“The End of the Line”

Sketch from The Final Problem novel.

No Sherlockian villain is more diabolical as Professor James Moriarty, despite the fact that he only appears in this one tale (and is mentioned in others). “He is the Napoleon of crime,” Sherlock says Watson. “He is the mastermind behind half of what is wicked in this vast metropolis, as well as practically everything that goes undiscovered. He’s a genius, a philosopher, and an abstract thinker all rolled into one. He’s got a first-class intellect.”

Holmes has been following him and his crew for some time and is about to apprehend them all. When Moriarty figures out who’s after him, the tables are turned, and Holmes and Watson find themselves on the run. Will they be able to free themselves from the clutches of this merciless monster? 

 

When this tale was published, the ending almost triggered riots in London. 

Bonus: After you complete this one, you should absolutely read “The Adventure of the Empty House.” 

“The Silver Blaze Adventure”

Illustration form The Adventure of Silver Blaze novel.

A valuable thoroughbred named Silver Blaze has gone stolen, his trainer has been slain, and several sheep in a neighboring field have been discovered lame on the eve of a major horse race. Is it possible that the horse will be located in time for the race? Will the trainer’s killer be apprehended? So, how about those pesky sheep? 

There are many threads here that include some of Doyle’s best and most memorable writing and logic. In reality, the famous debate about “the strange occurrence of the dog in the night-time” spawned a wonderful book with that sentence as its title. 

Some of the better-written Holmes tales are predictable, and some of the better story lines aren’t as well written or organized; “The Silver Blaze” is one of the few stories that incorporates all of Doyle’s greatest characteristics. 

“The Copper Beeches’ Adventure” is a story about the adventures of a group of copper beeches. 

A man shaking hand with women in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches novel.

The beauty of the Sherlock Holmes tales is that there’s certain to be one with a tone that appeals to you; there’s a wide spectrum from lighthearted and humorous to dark and sinister. This tale is on the later end of the spectrum, providing a darker peek into Doyle’s thoughts than most of the others. However, it isn’t so twisted as to be off-putting, and, spoiler warning, there is a happy ending at the end. 

Miss Violet Hunter makes a visit to Holmes and seeks his advice about accepting a position as a nanny, which, although lucrative, comes with a variety of unusual requirements, including cutting her hair short and wearing certain clothing. She accepts the task, but when things in the home get more weird, she summons Holmes to assist her. The puzzle turns out to be significantly more complex and convoluted than either Holmes or Watson had anticipated. 

“A Bohemian Scandal”

This is another of Doyle’s lighter tales, and it features the series’ most iconic female character, who, in Sherlock’s opinion, “eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” 

On the night of his wedding, the King of Bohemia needs assistance not in solving a crime, but in keeping an old affair hidden. The monarch had a fling with an American opera diva called Irene Adler when he was younger. The king gave her a huge image of them together throughout their romance, which she still has. If Irene becomes angry with him, it might spill over and insult the king’s devout fiancée. 

Holmes accepts the task, believing it will be simple to deceive the lady and collect the photos. Irene turns out to be even more shrewd than Holmes had suspected. With both sides using a variety of disguises, one of them ultimately and permanently wins the upper hand. But will it be Adler or Holmes who triumphs? 

 

“The Norwood Builder’s Adventure”

The Adventure of the Norwood Builder novels Illustration.

This narrative begins with one of the most iconic opening scenes in the canon: a young lawyer, John McFarlane, walks into Holmes’ office knowing he’ll be arrested and charged with murder. McFarlane had been named as a beneficiary in one of his clients’ will the day before; later that evening, the client was bludgeoned to death and his corpse was set on fire to cover the evidence. Of fact, all indicators lead to McFarlane’s guilt. 

Inspector Lestrade detains McFarlane for the time being, allowing Holmes the opportunity to establish his innocence before being accused. Is he capable of completing the task? 

It’s amusing to see Holmes having to work backwards from his regular approach. In this chapter, we also get a better image of Lestrade; rather than being a resentful rival, his friendship with Holmes seems to blossom into true comradeship. 

“Charles Augustus Milverton’s Adventure” is a novel by Charles Augustus Milverton.

While Holmes’ main goal is always to achieve justice in the eyes of the law, every now and then a case arises that questions his beliefs about right and wrong. The narrative of Charles Augustus Milverton is the most remarkable of them. He’s a rich loner who makes most of his money by blackmailing others. He purchases shady letters and images, then sells them to the highest bidder, regardless of the lives lost in the process. 

Lady Eva Blackwell, who wants to get some embarrassing papers, enlists Holmes in the struggle against Milverton. Milverton is the most heinous criminal London has ever seen, and although Holmes is aware of him, he hasn’t had the chance to collect proof of his crimes; this is his moment, and he seizes it. The reader is treated to ingenious disguises, a fake engagement, break-ins, safe-cracking, and one of the most startling endings you’ll find in these tales. It’s a joy to see. 

Subscribe to my literary newsletter, “What to Read Next,” to keep up with all of my reading. 

Listen to our podcast with Michael Sims discussing Sherlock Holmes’ origins: 

 

 

 

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The best Sherlock Holmes stories are the ones that have been adapted into popular movies and TV shows. The top 10 list includes “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, and “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”. Reference: best sherlock holmes books.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the best Sherlock story?

A: The best Sherlock story is A Scandal in Bohemia, because it has a twist at the end.

What is the scariest Sherlock Holmes story?

A: I cannot personally answer that question, but here is a list of the scariest Sherlock Holmes stories.

Where should I start with Sherlock Holmes books?

A: If you are new to the series, I recommend starting with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This will give you an introduction into what the character is like and some background information on how he became who he was. For people already familiar with him, it might be helpful to instead start at one of Arthur Conan Doyles The Memoirs which can be read around 7-8.

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