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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is more popular than ever, which means there are lots of new books, movies, and Sherlockiana. The reviews and recommendations below can help you focus on the best ones from 2011. If you're just getting started with Holmes, see the Top 10 Choices for New Fans. This site also reviews newer Sherlockian items to consider.
|Category||# of Items|
|2011 Holmes Fiction||5|
|2011 Holmes DVDs, Movies, and Related||5|
|2011 Books About Holmes & Conan Doyle||6|
After the loss of Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair hosts a publicity contest to determine the world's greatest sleuth. Big Red and Old Red, cowboys turned detectives after reading the Holmes tales, get included and investigate a murder. Humor, clever twists and witty phrasing set this apart from most pastiches. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. Series newcomers should know that Holmes is not a character, and you may want to read at least the first two books (Holmes on the Range and On the Wrong Track) in the series before reading this one. However, it can be enjoyed on its own and is one of the best in an excellent series. A new collection of related short stories is also enjoyable. ($24.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.49)
Anthony Horowitz is the creator and writer of the excellent BBC series Foyle's War, as well as many other TV dramas and the Alex Rider series. His first effort at Holmes in The House of Silk is darker and more melancholy than the Conan Doyle stories, but largely captures the style and sense of the original tales. It incorporates several strong mysteries into a fast-paced story that makes this a real page-turner. Many steps above the typical pastiche, it's main weakness comes from occasional poor proofreading and publisher practices, which reflects more on Mulholland Books than the author. ($27.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.49)
Top writers produce 16 all-new stories inspired by the Holmes tales. Not your typical pastiches, most do not have Holmes as a character and half take place in the 21st century. Styles, plots, and characters vary widely, which combined with generally strong writing makes for an enticing collection. Many of the tales require only passing knowledge of Holmes, but a few offer special pleasures for Sherlockian insiders. When writers as different as Lee Child and Neil Gaiman both hit home runs, there's unquestionably something for everyone in this book. ($15.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $10.20; also in hardcover)
Laurie King has produced another fine volume in her series where Holmes has married an intellectual younger woman named Mary Russell and they investigate mysteries around the world. This story is lighter and less intense than her most recent work, with a wonderful balance of humor, adventure, and a bit of mystery. King's fluid style remains as charming as ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For more about King and her series, see Laurie King talks about writing and Russell. Unlike some others in the Mary Russell series, you can read The Pirate King on its own, or you could start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. ($25.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $14.07)
This is not a Sherlock Holmes story or a conventional mystery. Instead, it's a novel of historical fiction set in the 1930s and 40s involving many of the founding members of The Baker Street Irregulars literary society. Lellenberg draws on extensive knowledge of the era, the BSI, and his own work at the Pentagon to create a period novel that mixes the literary world and espionage. For those familiar with his BSI History series books, the novel provides new perspectives on the BSI founders.
($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see the author's website.)
The year's best DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, videos, movie-related and audio items released in 2011. See also About the Choices.
Prices as of November 2011; subject to change.
This engaging mix of fact and fiction should appeal to all mystery lovers even if they don't know the Holmes tales, and Sherlockians will get extra enjoyment from how it combines elements of the Holmes stories with real biographical details from Conan Doyle's life. Ian Richardson is excellent as Dr. Bell. This 2011 DVD re-release of the 2-hour pilot episode from the BBC/PBS series Murder Rooms contains the same material as the 2003 DVD, including several text-based extras about ACD, the cast, and the production. The rest of that BBC series consists of four 90-minute episodes and is available as Murder Rooms in a separate 2-DVD set. ($19.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $15.99)
(Updated 11/1/13) In 2011 this Universal Vault Series release was the only available option to see the movie on disc. As such I recommended it, but noted its limitations. This DVD is a no-frills product, lacking subtitles or even a chapter index. The mono sound is weak, and a DVD-R is not as good as a standard pressed DVD. Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) and the original 114 minutes. ($19.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $17.99.) The 2013 Seven-Per-Cent Solution Blu-ray is clearly a better choice now and worth an extra $5-$10, especially if you have a large-screen TV. The Blu-ray Combo pack also includes a DVD, so while this 2011 DVD is not bad, you should get the new Blu-ray version instead.
When Granada Television developed the Jeremy Brett Holmes series it derailed another project starring Ian Richardson, and his two made-for-TV Holmes movies are often overlooked. This is the weaker of the two, with a disappointing Watson and an adaptation that leaves out much of the detective work and replaces it with action scenes, including a truly ludicrous fight between Holmes and Tonga. Richardson is a believable Holmes despite being a little too genial. It's worth watching, but I thought Richardson's performance as a Holmes-like figure was stronger as Dr. Bell (above), and his version of The Hound was a better adaptation. Full-screen, in color. ($22.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $20.49)
It's fascinating to compare the 1939 Rathbone Hound with this 1983 TV version. This Ian Richardson movie uses many points from the original novel that did not appear in the Rathbone version, and omits some found in that earlier film. It also incorporates phrases and scenes from other Holmes tales, most notably from "The Speckled Band." Outdoor Devonshire location shots enhance the movie and the moor scenes are quite realistic. See the insightful reviews about this movie for prior VHS/DVD releases, which are more accurate than the comments on this new release. Overall the 1939 Rathbone Hound is better, but Sherlockians should also watch this version. A couple scenes might be too mature for children. Full-screen, in color. ($22.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.88)
Holmes fans will find this 45-minute documentary provides a nice introduction to the life of Conan Doyle and his writing of the early Holmes stories. While visiting many key Doylean and Sherlockian locations, you'll also get to see a rare Holmes manuscript, a superb copy of Beeton's 1887, and materials from the Lancelyn Green collection and the British Library. The documentary appeared in 2009, but the DVD also contains more than 90 minutes of extended interviews with additional insights and Sherlockian rarities. ($22.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.16)
Long out of print, the first edition of this book is difficult to find and sells for more than $100 as a used book. This new edition should prove very welcome indeed to Sherlockians who couldn't afford the original but want the inside story of the Brett series. While I have not yet read either it or the original, the first edition garnered strong reviews from Sherlockian experts, and the publisher has provided some details about this new edition. It includes a new introduction by Cox and some additional photos. Many photos are now in color, while they were all black & white originally. In addition, some factual errors have been corrected and a few of Cox's opinions have evolved since he wrote the original book. ($28.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see Wessex Press)
Michael Dirda takes you on delightful guided tour of Conan Doyle's life and writings, and along the way provides a very personal account of his own lifelong involvement with Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle. He turns what might have been a dry academic discourse into an engaging and wide-ranging discussion in a slim volume that's a quick and entertaining read. You'll learn about some excellent Conan Doyle stories, find out about some other stories and authors that you'll want to read, and get an insider's look at The Baker Street Irregulars literary society. Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, writes with deep expertise but keeps it interesting for those who just enjoy reading. ($19.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $12.96)
Unpublished until 2011, Conan Doyle's first attempt at a novel should be read more as a notebook about Conan Doyle and the 1880s than as a novel, and so appears under this non-fiction section. The editors provide an excellent introduction and numerous annotations that highlight how Conan Doyle would later use material from the book in Holmes tales and his other writings. See my full review of The Narrative of John Smith and read more about its history on the same web page. ($15.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $10.20)
Sherlockians interested in the "grand game" of treating the Holmes stories as true historical events will find many treasures in this collection of mock-historical scholarship. These are not Holmes stories—they are writings that speculate about the stories. Long-time Sherlockians may have read most of these already, but it's nice to have so many in a single volume. New material includes an introduction by Laurie King and capsule biographies of the contributors. ($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
Many consider "A Scandal in Bohemia" to be one of the best Holmes stories, so this facsimile of the original handwritten manuscript provides a unique perspective on the tale. It includes an annotated, line-by-line transcription facing the facsimile pages, and essays on the manuscript's history and about the story itself. See my longer review. ($35.00 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
Sherlockians from Italy have written some fine essays about the Holmes stories and the Victorian era. Not surprisingly, many focus on aspects of the tales involving Italy or Italians. These translated essays give English-readers a chance to experience some of the best "grand game" scholarship from Italy. ($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
The 2011 list was first posted on November 5, 2011. It was revised and one item added on November 19. A final item, published at the end of November, was added to the current November 29 version of this list.
This site first published its "Best of Year" reviews and recommendations in 2009. See the current Year's Best Sherlock Holmes books and movies and the Other Years' Best Sherlock Holmes books and DVDs. People just getting started with Holmes should see the best choices for new Sherlockians.
A Kindle version of most of these books is available, but I don't list the e-book or its price unless it's hard to find on Amazon. Typically the Kindle Edition will be listed in the Formats box to the right of a book's cover photo.
When a book is available in both print and e-text, I review the print edition.
My choices are based on 30+ years of reading and collecting Sherlockiana. I'm a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, have written numerous Sherlockian articles, and have spoken about Conan Doyle rarities for conferences at Harvard and the University of Minnesota.
I limited the number of items in order to make this list easier and faster for people to use. Items released near the end of 2011 may not be on this list, so be sure to check my 2012 recommendations as well. And see these details on my selection process and criteria.
In most cases I've given both the U.S. suggested retail price (SRP) and the price at Amazon as of November 2011; those prices are of course subject to change.
Best Sherlock Holmes books and DVDs / Blu-ray from prior years