Few works are quite as timelessly transcendent as the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and as such, the pipe-smoking sleuth needs little introduction. The legacy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works is made obvious through the many adaptations that have been created throughout the years, as well as the reshaping of the mystery genre as a whole. The last Sherlock Holmes story was published in April of 1927, and to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of our favorite detective, I have compiled a list of my personal favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. Don’t worry, I won’t give away any endings! So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot. This story has a title that’s as unique as its plot. Holmes and Watson find themselves vacationing in a cottage in Cornwall, as Holmes has been urged to take a break from consulting for his health. Their holiday is soon interrupted, however, by the news that a local’s house was struck by a terrible tragedy. Mortimer Tregennis explains that he had visited his sibling’s house one night, then returned the next morning to find his sister dead and his brothers sitting at the table maniacally laughing and singing. Judging from the grotesquely horrified faces of the three victims, the death and insanity was presumably caused by fear. At once baffling and eerie, I especially love this story for the way it shows Holmes and Watson’s unyielding dedication to unveil the truth, at times with no regard for their personal safety.
The Yellow Face. Initially appearing to be somewhat mundane compared to some of Doyle’s other works, this story shows itself to contain a great deal of depth upon its conclusion. Mysteries tend to highlight the darker side of human nature, and this story is a uplifting exception. A visitor arrives at Baker Street one morning seeking the detective’s help to discover a secret his wife is keeping from him. Mr. Munro swears by a happy and trusting relationship with his wife, Effie, until her peculiar behavior beginning a few months earlier. Without preface or reason, she asked her husband for one thousand pounds, then began secretly sneaking off to a nearby cottage in Norbury. Despite his wife’s insistence that he not speculate about her actions, Munro surveyed the house and saw a mysterious figure with a yellow face, and promptly decided to consult Sherlock to discover the truth. This story is singular in that it highlights a rare folly on Holmes’ part, and strikes a strong contrast to the typical nefarious acts carried out in Doyle’s other mysteries.
The Reigate Squires. This story begins, yet again, with Holmes and Watson taking a vacation from their investigative work, as Holmes has fallen ill after a particularly strenuous case. Rest continues to evade him, however, as a string of robberies in the area is brought to his attention. The first burglary was puzzling in that the thieves stole a number of items, but none of them were of any value. The second, however, resulted in the murder of the estate’s coachman, who was found with a torn note in his hand. Amidst the mystery, Holmes finds opportunities to use his illness to his advantage in order to discover the truth. This story in singular in that it highlights Sherlock’s cunning, and sometimes duplicitous, methods. The reader is reminded that the detective has a keen understanding of both crime and deceit.
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. Charles Augustus Milverton is a notorious blackmailer, and regarded by Sherlock as the most repulsive type of criminal. Presently, he and Watson are forced to meet with Milverton on behalf of a client currently at his mercy. The client, Lady Eva Blackwell, is hoping to buy compromising letters from Milverton that, if released, would scandalize and end her engagement to the Earl of Dovercourt. Upon meeting with Charles to negotiate a price for his silence, the duo finds Milverton to be uncooperative, and must result to alternative means to protect their client. As an independent consultant, Holmes is ruled more by his own morals than any legal obligations. As such, this story highlights the moral gray areas that exist in the detective’s business and provides an interesting glimpse into the sometimes criminal acts of the two men.
The Speckled Band. This story is widely-acclaimed, with Doyle himself claiming it to be his best work. It begins with Helen Stoner consulting Holmes and Watson because she fears that her stepfather is trying to kill her. Helen explains that Dr. Roylott was the widowed husband of her mother, and was known to be a violent man, having already served time for murder. Two years earlier, shortly before being married, Helen’s twin sister died, her last words being, “The speckled band!” Now, Helen has been the observer of many strange occurrences within her home, and has recently been relocated into the room where her sister died under the pretense of construction. This work is a classic locked room mystery and provides perhaps the best example of the way in which Doyle’s works forever altered the genre as a whole.
The Red-Headed League. Last, but certainly not least, is the baffling and entertaining mystery of the red-headed league. As the title suggests, the detective meets a client with shocking red hair and a perplexing story. The client, Wilson, explains that his assistant had previously urged him to respond to a newspaper ad offering high wages for employees with bright red hair. Taking this advice, Wilson attends an interview and is hired on the spot, as the other applicants had hair that was either too light or too dark, according to the interviewers. His “job” with the league entailed going to their office during the week and copying pages of the encyclopedia, a menial task which Wilson happily completed for high wages. A few weeks later, however, Wilson arrived to find a note announcing the disbanding of the league, and was unable to learn more. This story is amusing and singular in its plot, but the conclusion reveals itself to be far more sinister than it seems at a glance.