What’s Your Favorite Sherlock Holmes Story?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sherlock Holmes is the “most portrayed literary human character in film & TV.” He fascinated the world when Conan Doyle’s stories first appeared, and today he’s still calling “the game is afoot” to Dr. Watson as they hail a hansom cab on the foggy streets of London, ready to right a wrong and catch a criminal.
Conan Doyle wrote fifty-six Sherlock Holmes short stories and four novels, and everyone seems to have a favorite tale. Even Conan Doyle himself made a list of his personal twelve favorite short stories:
- “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” 1892
- “The Red-headed League” 1891
- “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” 1903
- “The Final Problem” 1893
- “A Scandal in Bohemia” 1891
- “The Adventure of the Empty House” 1903
- “The Five Orange Pips” 1891
- “The Adventure of the Second Stain” 1904
- “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” 1910
- “The Adventure of the Priory School” 1904
- “The Musgrave Ritual” 1893
- “The Reigate Squires” 1893
International readers were polled in 1999[i] and came up with their top twelve. The numbers in red correspond to Conan Doyle’s favorites.
- “The Speckled Band” 1
- “The Red-Headed League” 2
- “A Scandal in Bohemia” 5
- “Silver Blaze”
- “The Blue Carbuncle”
- “The Musgrave Ritual” 11
- “The Final Problem” 4
- “The Empty House” 6
- “The Dancing Men” 3
- “The Six Napoleons”
- “The Adventure of The Bruce-Partington Plans”
- “The Man with the Twisted Lip”
Readers chose five stories that were not among Doyle’s top twelve, namely “Silver Blaze,” “The Blue Carbuncle,” “The Six Napoleons,” “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” and “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. Doyle later listed another seven of his favorites, including “Silver Blaze” as #13, “The Bruce Partington Plans” as #14, and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” as his 16th:
- “Silver Blaze” 1892
- “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” 1908
- “The Crooked Man” 1893
- “The Man with the Twisted Lip” 1891
- “The Greek Interpreter” 1893
- “The Resident Patient” 1893
- The Naval Treaty” 1893
The Readers’ Poll chose only two stories that were not on Doyle’s list of nineteen favorites, namely “The Blue Carbuncle” and “The Six Napoleons.”
An intriguing book entitled About Sixty is coming out this October, in which editor Chris Redmond, a well-known and respected Sherlockian, asked sixty Sherlockian scholars to pick their favorite Holmes story and reveal their reasons why. It will make interesting reading for anyone who is fascinated by the extraordinary character of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is not like the average man. He’s more like a machine—a machine that considers logic, fact, and cold-hearted analysis instead of empathy and sympathy. He does not approve of emotions. He is dispassionate and arrogant, dominated by his extraordinary logic and reasoning powers. A close counterpart today of such an intelligent, aloof character is Mr. Spock, the Vulcan alien in Star Trek played by Leonard Nimoy, who is loved and admired for his uniquely logical and unemotional take on everything in the universe.
Sherlock Holmes embodied the essence of a gentleman, as did his creator, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. Doyle loved his Queen and country and followed the Victorian code of honor and the rules of sportsmanship. Everything he did in life was cricket. His fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, held to the same rules and only broke the law when he believed such an action was justified in the code.
In looking at Doyle’s list, his favorites were mostly his early stories and fifteen of them are ones with murders. These are the High Crimes with loads of drama and excitement. In two of these stories, animals commit murder: a snake and a horse. Women commit murder in two, one by stabbing and one by suffocation; and males commit murder in nine: three by shooting their victims, two by poisoning, one by hanging, one by drowning, one by beating, and one by pushing a victim to his death.
In the fifty-six short stories, Sherlock Holmes always successfully identifies his villains, but he doesn’t always catch them. Out of a total of eighty villains in the stories, only thirty-one are arrested, eighteen escape, and twenty-one are set free. Out of five murderesses in the canon, none of them faces the law. In many instances, Holmes assumes the role of judge and pronounces his own brand of justice on the criminal. Holmes, always patriotic and discreet, follows the unwritten laws—and we approve of his decisions. They are always cricket.
[i] Randall Stock, “Rating Sherlock Holmes,” The Baker Street Journal, December 1999, pp. 5-11. Poll conducted summer/fall 1999.
Diane Gilbert Madsen is the author of the award-winning DD McGil Literati Mystery Series, including The Conan Doyle Notes as well as the Sherlockian manual Cracking the Code of the Canon: How Sherlock Holmes Made His Decisions (both books available through The Strand Magazine). She is a contributing author to the forthcoming book About Sixty, in which Sherlockian scholars reveal their personal favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. She and her husband live on a five-acre wildlife preserve in southwest Florida. For more information, visit her website at http://www.dianegilbertmadsen.com