Reading lists

Where to start with Sherlock Holmes

Settling into an autumn with the world's most famous sleuth? Here's the best way to delve into the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Image: Penguin
Image: Penguin

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes isn't the first fictional detective to grace bookshelves, but C. Auguste Dupin and Monsieur Lecoq haven't become quite such familiar household names. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes in 1887, in the midst of a career as a doctor and botanist. Nevertheless, he was no great age when he created the character who would make him famous as a writer - he was 27, and wrote A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson's debut, in just three weeks. 

From that humble beginning, three Sherlock novels and five collections of short stories emerged. It even got to a point that Doyle himself was sick of his creation, writing to his mother in 1891: "I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." His mother - inadvertedly representing the voices of fiction fans the world over - was outraged. 

So Doyle turned to financial incentive in lieu of creative stasis, urging publishers to cough up for more Holmes stories. Such was their hunger, Doyle ended up being very well-paid indeed - and Holmes and Watson defied the death he had sent them to, and ended up retiring instead. 

But what's the best way to read them? Here's our take on the essential way to navigate the Sherlock Holmes stories.

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