The Great Detective! Creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a massive influence to Agatha Christie and the whole murder mystery genre that for over a century has inspired many books, films, TV shows and games. This month, we delve deep into the life and times of the greatest detective ever known, who he was, what he stood for and some of his greatest cases.
The creator of Sherlock Holmes was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who between 1891 and 1927 published a total of 4 novels and 56 short stories about the famous detective. He was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle on 22nd May, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland to an Irish-Catholic family. His father was an artist, who later went mad and was committed to an asylum, but despite that Doyle always maintained a good relationship with his mother who was also a great storyteller. He was sent to a boarding school in England where he spent many (unhappy) years. Doyle hated class, bigotry and corporal punishment and his only joy really was in the letters he would write to his mother and after discovering he too had the gift he would entertain some of the younger students with the stories. He graduated in in 1876, age 17 and began training to be a doctor. He took a break from his studies to work as a ships surgeon and in 1880 returned to finish his studies finally graduating, in 1881. He set up a small doctor’s surgery but found little joy in being a medical doctor and began focusing more on writing.
In 1887 Doyle wrote “A Study in Scarlet” the book that first introduced us to Sherlock Holmes. After introducing us to the famous detective each novel and short story that followed reveals a little bit more about the man known as Sherlock Holmes. ‘A Study in Scarlet’ also introduces us to the concept of ‘the sidekick’ the kind hearted, but often less intelligent friend and companion who helps the hero in their adventures. A common trope that is still used in many types of fiction today. This story, as with many others that followed are narrated by Dr Watson, who provides a detailed account of the genius that is Sherlock Holmes at work.
But who was Sherlock Holmes? What do we know about him?
Sherlock Holmes was the creation of physician Arthur Doyle (later to become known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) he’s a fictional detective who was active in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s during the Victorian and Edwardian Era. Smarter than the average man Holmes works as a private detective using logic, observation and intuition to solve cases. He is also known to be rather arrogant and have a dependency on drugs, opium and cocaine, which were both legal during the Victorian Era. In his early career he’s eccentric and lacks understanding of many social etiquette’s, as well as having a lack of empathy and emotion. Often acting as a law unto himself, he is far from perfect.
He met his long-term friend and companion Dr John Watson at age 20, Watson is slightly older, an ex-military doctor who fought in the wars of the time. Watson acts as companion, advisor and gentling influence assisting Holmes on his cases and helping him to develop trust and show emotion. He’s a skilled marksman, sword fighter, boxer and martial artist as well as an actor and master of disguises.
Sherlock Holmes was born around 1854, attended university where he studied science and where it is suspected he may have first met the man who would later become his arch nemesis Prof. Moriarty. He has one older brother Mycroft Holmes, who works in Politics and later adaptations not written by Doyle himself introduces us to a younger sister called Enola. He appears in all stories and is active as a private investigator from around 1878 to 1903, with a final case in 1914, by this point Holmes was aged 60. It is assumed he would have died sometime after that, although the exact date of his death is not documented anywhere. The author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on 7th July 1930 (age 71), at which point Holmes, had he still been alive would have been 76.
What the experts say
According to most sources, everyone who is interested in the famous detective and his adventures should start with ‘A Study in Scarlet’ the first of 4 full length Sherlock Holmes novels Doyle published and it’s the first time we are introduced to the famous detective and his new friend Dr Watson. This first mystery revolves around a body found at an empty house in Brixton, London with the word "RACHE" written in blood on the wall. The story, as narrated to us by Dr Watson, introduces us to Holmes wit and intelligence, brings in the concept of a “red herring” (false clues, laid to confuse the detectives) and the stereotypical ‘bumbling police officer’ that can be seen in many mysteries that follow. We researched multiple sources, essays, lists and opinion posts, including the ones written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself to discover which are the best Sherlock Holmes stories.
The Adventures of The Speckled Band, is no. 1 on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own ‘best of’ list published in ‘The strand’ newspaper in 1927. This is an opinion that is agreed with by multiple subject experts. It introduces us to the concept of ‘the locked room mystery’ a popular theme for many murder mysteries that followed including those written by the queen of crime Agatha Christie. In The Speckled Band a young woman comes to Holmes for help, worried that her life is in danger. 2 years previously her sister was murdered in the room that is now hers, the door was locked from the inside and no one could have got in or out, so how did her sister die? Through a series of tricks and disguises Holmes manages to solve the case and save the young woman before the murderer strikes again.
The Silver Blaze, published in 1892 is heralded as one of Holmes greatest cases by the experts, once again for it’s great use of misdirection, red herrings and subtle clues that only a great mind like that of Sherlock Holmes (and later Agatha Christie’s similarly genius detective Hercule Poirot) can spot. Although it wasn’t included in his original list, The Silver Blaze was added by Doyle along with six others (including A Study in Scarlet) later. A prize winning race horse is stolen and it’s rider apparently murdered on the eve before a big race. It takes Holmes and Watson out of London and down to Dartmoor a place in Devon where a seemingly unrelated and obscure set of clues lead Holmes to solving the case.
The Final Problem, is no. 4 on Doyle’s list and concludes the first set of stories written about the Great Detective. In this story we discover more about Holmes greatest adversary Prof. Moriarty, “the napoleon of crime” as he’s labelled by Holmes himself. Moriarty is the mastermind behind many of London’s crimes. He’s as smart as Holmes and has always escaped capture. In this final tale (or so people thought at the time) the two foes face off in one final battle, upon conclusion of this ‘Final Problem’ the Great Detective disappears and is not heard from again for nearly a decade.
The Sign of the Four, was the 2nd novel to be published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1890. It introduces us to Mary Morstan, who later becomes Watson’s wife. As with his 3rd novel, Doyle originally didn’t include this on his list, but added it later. With buried treasure, hunted by a peg-legged pirate, scandals and shady deals, escaped convicts and cold-blooded murder all intertwined in this swashbuckling tale it’s no wonder that it makes the list of best Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries.
The Hound of the Baskerville’s, although it wasn’t included on Doyle’s personal list it is documented by many other sources as one of the best Sherlock Holmes stories. It is the 3rd of the 4 full length novel that were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This one was published in 1902 and marked the return of Sherlock Holmes who had disappeared nearly a decade ago after ‘The Final Problem’ the story was a huge success and Doyle was paid a large sum of money to continue writing about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which he did for many years to come. The Hound of the Baskervilles returns us to Dartmoor in Devon (the setting of silver blaze) where a terrible scandal many years ago is said to have cursed the Baskerville family, many of whom died tragic deaths. Ghost stories of a monstrous hell hound stalking the moors is blamed. Through elaborate investigations and unravelling lies Holmes identified the true source of the mysterious hell hound and its murders.
The Adventures of the Empty House published in 1903 was the first short story Doyle wrote bringing his famous detective back after ‘The Final Problem’ and is no. 6 on Doyle’s list and explains how Holmes survived his final battle and where he’s been since. As with ‘the speckled band’ Empty House is a locked room mystery, a man was shot in his room, but no one heard the gunshot, and the door was locked from the inside. The only way out would have been the window, but with a 20ft drop into a flowerbed that showed no sign of being disturbed how could the killer have escaped? Reunited again Watson and Holmes must piece together clues and solve the crime.
The Adventures of The Reigate Squire, published in 1893 is no.12 on Doyle’s list of Holmes greatest cases. In the British countryside, 2 country estates are arguing over who owns land, which may seem harmless to begin with but when a burglary turns into a murder, the case becomes a bit more complicated, and Holmes intervenes.
The Adventures of the Dancing Men published in 1903 is no. 3 on Doyle’s list of his favourite Holmes stories. The Cubitt family have been receiving messages in the form of ‘dancing men’ a secret code that cannot be understood. They seek the support of Mr Holmes to try and figure out what’s going on. The messages are decoded as a warning, Holmes and Watson rush to Norfolk to discover Mr Cubitt dead, seemly shot my Mrs Cubitt, who then attempted to kill herself. The coded message explains that something deeper is going on and it’s up to Holmes to find out why, before anyone else gets hurt.
We focus specifically on some of Sherlock Holmes greatest murder mysteries in this collection but it is by no means an exhaustive list, indeed there are 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about his great detective the marvellous Mr Sherlock Holmes below are some notable mentions, stories that Doyle himself lists as some of his best work that do not involve murder at all.
A Scandal in Bohemia is no. 5 on Doyle’s list and supported by multiple sources, this story introduces us to the infamous Irene Adler, the only woman to ever have any impact on Holmes life. Holmes is approached by a foreign royal, who seeks help in obtaining an incriminating photograph detailing his affair with the American Opera singer Irene Adler. If evidence of this affair were to become public, it could damage his reputation and prevent a very advantageous marriage. Holmes seeks out Miss Adler, attempts to trick her into handing over the photograph, a case he is unsuccessful in. Teaching Holmes a valuable lesson, it’s not always about winning, but about doing what’s right. Another of Doyle’s greatest cases is The Red-Headed League, no. 2 on Doyle’s personal list and another popular choice as to one of Holmes best cases. A businessman comes to Holmes and explains a strange case, he was hired by ‘the red-headed league’ to do some basic jobs and is paid for it, but a few weeks later when he goes back to the office of the league, he finds that it’s vanished, and the landlady says it never existed. Holmes suspecting a bigger plot, investigates and uncovers a bigger scam.
Whether investigating a murder or not, whether he’s successful or not Holmes has influenced many a story over the last century. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation has been adapted into other books, films, TV series and games. Modern adaptations such as Netflix’s Enola Holmes 1 & 2, TV series such as Sherlock and Elementary and other famous writers such as Agatha Christie have all taken inspiration from the great detective. The books are in the public domain which means they can be read freely, online and adapted by anyone. See below for a list of all his works. You can even take on the role of detective and play your own murder mystery inspired by Sherlock Holmes and step into his shoes for a night. We hope you enjoy discovering The Man, The Myth and The Murder Mystery as much as we have.
List of Sherlock Holmes Stories
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"A Scandal in Bohemia"
"The Red-Headed League"
"A Case of Identity"
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
"The Five Orange Pips"
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"
"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"[note 1]
"The Adventure of the Yellow Face"
"The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk"
"The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"[note 2]
"The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"[note 2]
"The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle"
"The Adventure of the Crooked Man"
"The Adventure of the Resident Patient"
"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter"
"The Adventure of the Naval Treaty"
"The Adventure of the Final Problem"
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
"The Adventure of the Empty House"
"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"
"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist"
"The Adventure of the Priory School"
"The Adventure of Black Peter"
"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"
"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
"The Adventure of the Three Students"
"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"
"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter"
"The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"
"The Adventure of the Second Stain"
His Last Bow
"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge"
"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"
"The Adventure of the Red Circle"
"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
"The Adventure of the Dying Detective"
"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"
"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
"His Last Bow"
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone"
"The Problem of Thor Bridge"
"The Adventure of the Creeping Man"
"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs"
"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"
"The Adventure of the Three Gables"
"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"
"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"
"The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"
"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger"
"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
Sherlock Holmes Novels
A Study in Scarlet
The Sign of the Four
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Valley of Fear