Sherlock Holmes. Dr John Watson. 221B Baker Street. Even if you’ve never read a word about these infamous characters, you’ve heard about them, right? They seem to be everywhere!
From modern shows that use Sherlock and his incredible deductive reasoning skills as a model for characters to modern movie adaptations of the classic stories. From comments that people make in passing referencing Sherlock to quotes attributed to Sherlock that are widely known. It’s hard to escape knowing who Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are.
And yet, I wonder how many people have actually sat down and read the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…
How many people have taken the time to get to know Sherlock through the words of his creator and how many people just think they know him through verbal references, movies that have been made, or TV show adaptations.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching Sherlock adaptations as much as anyone! There are some great successes! And there are some adaptations that have left a lot to be desired. But no movie or TV show, no matter how well done can give you the full picture that Doyle gives. No actor – no matter how well they research the character – can truly bring out every idiosyncrasy, every character nuance that can be found in the written words of a book.
You see, it’s only through reading the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that you can see the depth of the friendship between John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Through Doyle’s words, you can enter into their world. Take a seat by the fire in Baker Street. Linger a while and let your mind explore all the curiosities kept in their quarters. All the papers and reference materials, the experiments, the untidy piles of everything. It’s only through Doyle’s words that you can truly see the methods that have endeared Sherlock to generations.
Finding A Starting Place
Which begs the question: Why aren’t people reading the words of this masterful storyteller to get to know Sherlock Holmes? Well, there are a few reasons that spring to mind, but one of the biggest objections is not knowing where to start.
Let’s face it, with a collection of 56 short stories and 4 novels about this incredible detective and his ability to solve what eludes most other men, it’s very difficult to find a starting place! Looking at the canon of Holmes’ stories and trying to find a place to start can feel overwhelming.
In fact, you might wonder why there are so many short stories. If Doyle was going to write a detective story, why would he choose to write so many short stories instead of full length books? Well, Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes through two novels. After that, short stories of Sherlock Holmes and his detective work began appearing in the newspaper. The world fell in love with the great detective and eagerly followed along with every case. Doyle actually stopped writing about Holmes for a while, thinking that he was done with this character. Yet, the demand for more stories starring Sherlock Holmes was so unanimous that Doyle picked up his pen again to share more about the great detective.
Well, this answers the question of why there are so many short stories, but it doesn’t answer the question of what stories to start with! Never fear, my friend! Below, you’ll find a list of 10 Sherlock Holmes cases that are perfect to start with whether you’re picking up the story for the first time or if you’re coming back to the stories after years away.
The Intimidation Factor
Sometimes the thought of picking up one of the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is incredibly intimidating. Perhaps the language is different from what you are used to. Perhaps the idea of reading an intelligent detective story intimidates you. Perhaps you think that you don’t have enough time. Perhaps the idea of reading a classic is intimidating.
While it’s very true that Doyle writes in a style that’s not typical of this day and age, his incredible attention to detail cannot help but bring you into the story. It’s true that the language and style is different from the common style today and for this reason, it might take a little longer to settle into the flow of the story. And yet, when you dive in, when you allow yourself to enter into the flow of the story, the story speaks and draws you along on an adventure.
You see, when you read something outside of your normal genre, you learn. You expand your mind. You expand your vocabulary. If reading Sherlock Holmes seems intimidating to you, start small. Start with one short story and look at it as a challenge.
This intimidation factor can feel very real, absolutely! However, when you get to know characters from the pen of their creator, there is a depth, a connection you feel with the character that can be found in no other way. My friend, choose to rise above the intimidation and get to know Holmes and Watson from the source!
The Thinking Factor
As you read Sherlock Holmes, you are challenged to think. Now, if you’re not used to thinking as you read, this style of writing could take some time to get used to. It’s not merely reading for the sake of entertainment. Almost without realizing it, you’re swept up into the mystery, the drama, the intrigue of the story line. You walk with Sherlock as he investigates. You see the clues that he sees, and yet sometimes you are hard pressed to come up with a reasonable explanation for the events that have happened.
Every story makes you think. Every story helps you see beneath the surface. Every story raises your appreciation for this incredible man who has taken his brilliance and applied it to solving crimes that no one else could untangle.
But here’s the thing: As you read the stories of Sherlock Holmes, as you see his methods applied through the words of Doyle, you start to reason out the mystery for yourself. You find your own skills being sharpened. You find yourself paying attention to more details.
As Sherlock’s incredible deductive reasoning skills and superior mental powers are used to solve case after case, it challenges you to open your eyes and see more of what is happening in the world around you. You find yourself trying to solve the case that Sherlock is working on before he does even as your notice more and more details around you.
The Stories Themselves – Where Do You Start?
While all Sherlock Holmes stories can stand on their own and make perfect sense, it’s hard to know where to start! Let’s face it: with 56 short stories and 4 novels, it’s hard to tell just by looking at the titles what order to read Sherlock Holmes’ case file!
To make things even more challenging, if you were to read them in the order that Doyle wrote them, they would still not be fully in Sherlock’s chronological order! ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ for example, was written after a couple sets of short stories, but set in the middle of when those stories took place.
So where do you start? How do you come up with a reading order for the Sherlock Holmes mysteries? Well, you’re most likely going to get a different answer no matter what person you talk to. But, here are my top 10 suggestions for the Sherlock Holmes short stories you should start with. Keep in mind that you do not have to read them in order. Each story will stand on its own, no matter what order you choose to read them in.
#1 :: The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
Some mysteries start without any great fanfare. Sometimes events in life happen that seem odd, but believable. And then, all of a sudden, something changes. A twist or turn of events starts to spin your world in such a dramatic way that you cannot make sense of what’s happening. Such is the case in the Adventure of the Norwood Builder. Mr John McFarlane has led a typical life until events twist and change and become a cause for the fantastic. In fact, these seemingly normal events present a puzzle so unique that it takes the mind and deductive reasoning of the great Sherlock Holmes to get to the truth.
#2 :: The Adventure of the Dancing Men
When Mr Hilton Cubitt comes to see Sherlock Holmes, the puzzle he presents is quite an unusual one. And yet, he is not the one in the center of the puzzle as is most often the case in Sherlock’s clients. Instead, he presents a line of dancing men. Wondering what they mean and why they have suddenly appeared in his life is what drives him to seek out Holmes. In short, The Adventure of the Dancing Men is code breaking at its finest.
#3 :: The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
What do you do when the only clue you have is a package delivered in the mail that contains the most fantastic contents? Where do you even begin to focus your investigation? This is the question that Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard must answer. Lestrade turns to his friend, Sherlock Holmes, to help him unravel the details of this particular package. The incredible powers of observation, the attention to minute detail, and the powers of deduction are on full display as Sherlock begins with very little information and takes you through an adventure you’ll not soon forget!
#4 :: The Adventure of the Priory School
The Adventure of the Priory School not only gives you a wonderful puzzle to figure out, but it also gives you a revealing glimpse into the rules and reserve of the classes of English society in the early 1900s. The problem that Mr Thorneycroft Huxtable presents to Sherlock involving the disappearance of a highly influential, very powerful man’s son will take you through many twists and turns. In the end, the truth will not be what you expect.
#5 :: The Adventure of the Three Students
When a problem arises in a university town that requires the utmost discretion, Mr Hilton Soames knows beyond a doubt that Sherlock Holmes is the man for the job. The Adventure of the Three Students stands out among all of Sherlock’s case files as one that uses the power of observation and deduction to the fullest extent. Sherlock not only sees the smallest details in the students he interviews, but he observes and pulls information from details that seem insignificant to any other. It is an incredible example of seeing beyond the surface and solving a case from almost no information.
#6 :: Silver Blaze
No foray into the early 1900s of England would be complete without including a racehorse. This particular mystery centers around Silver Blaze, the champion racehorse and his disappearance. And yet, a famous racehorse is not an easy thing to conceal – particularly in the sparsely populated countryside! Follow along with Sherlock and Dr Watson as they go back and retrace the steps that led to the disappearance of this beast and discover from the seemingly unimportant details exactly what happened.
#7 :: The Red-Headed League
A society of red headed men. At first, it seems innocent enough, odd though it may be. But does this society, this league serve a larger purpose? This is the question that Sherlock Holmes must answer when Mr Jabez Wilson brings him this extraordinary puzzle that is cloaked in the odd, yet ordinary.
#8 :: The Man with the Twisted Lip
How do a case of a missing person, a suspected murder, a coat full of coins, and a homeless beggar with a twisted lip sitting in prison figure into a Sherlock Holmes case? In The Man with the Twisted Lip, Sherlock must start, not with too little information, but a large amount of information and sort through where each piece belongs and what information is important to discover the fate of the man with the twisted lip.
#9 :: The Problem of Thor Bridge
When the wife of a powerful Englishman is found on Thor Bridge and the only suspect is the governess who took care of the woman’s children, Sherlock Holmes is the only man that can untangle this mystery. Travel along with Sherlock as he retraced the events that led to this unfortunate event and piece by piece discovers the truth of the situation.
#10 :: The Adventure of Black Peter
Any adventure that begins with Sherlock Holmes testing his strength by trying to harpoon a dead animal in a butcher’s shop is sure to have an interesting twist. In the Adventure of Black Peter, Holmes and Watson look into the mysterious death of the notorious whaling captain, Black Peter. This investigation is not one to be soon forgotten as the truth is hidden under layers of deceit. Yet, in the end, Sherlock is able to find the truth and reveal it to the world.
The Novel: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Of the four novels that Doyle wrote about the great detective, The Hound of the Baskervilles stands out as one to remember. This intriguing mystery is set in an old family house on the moors of England and as each piece of the plot develops, it leaves you wanting to know more. Wanting to know what happens next as layer upon layer of complexity is examined and then made plain. This novel is not soon forgotten, but allows Sherlock to shine as his methods and capabilities are put to full use in discovering the truth behind the myth of the hound.
A Classic Finish
There is a saying that the mark of a true classic book is that it never stops saying what it needs to say. Instead, it continues giving its message over and over. Each time you pick it up new gems can be found between its pages. This is especially true of Sherlock Holmes.
No matter how many times you read and re-read these stories, it feels like you can find more details hiding in the words. Details and clues that were there all along, but you didn’t pick up on them the first or the second or even the fifth time through.
A story that you can read countless times and still feel like it’s the first time you’re reading it is a rare treasure. This is the rare treasure of the Sherlock Holmes collection. If you’ve never read these books for yourself, what are you waiting for? You can click one of the links below to purchase a copy for yourself.
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.