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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 2012. 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|
|2012 Holmes Fiction||5|
|2012 Holmes DVDs, Movies, and Related||5|
|2012 Books About Holmes & Conan Doyle||5|
Holmes investigates a scientist's work that could bring danger or opportunity to the British Empire. Drawing on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells, it's much more of a science romance/adventure tale than a mystery, with lots of action and little deduction. The language is breezy and thoroughly modern, and does not attempt to imitate the original Holmes tales. Yet the author clearly knows those originals, and offers some insightful and witty perspectives on Holmes, Watson, and other Canonical characters that raise it above many pastiches. If you like pulp adventure, you'll enjoy this even if you haven't read Wells's book.
($12.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $12.95; separate Kindle listing $6.39)
This diverse collection includes six short stories, three essays, a one-act play, and the opening chapter to an unfinished book. All except that opening chapter have been published previously, although Estleman has re-edited most of the material. The best item is also the new one: the opening chapter of a pastiche that was going to be a "round-robin" novel by multiple authors. Estleman's style as Watson is better than many, and I especially liked "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes" and "The Riddle of the Golden Monkeys." His fine introductory essay discusses his interest in Holmes and writing Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula – which I read and recall liking many years ago. ($24.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.47)
King's long-running series, with an intellectual younger woman named Mary Russell who is married to Sherlock Holmes, has throngs of admirers, and they are sure to enjoy this book. Events take place immediately after last year's highly recommended The Pirate King and involve some characters from prior books, but you don't need to have read others in the series. That said, I didn't care for how this story opened, and it's more convoluted than many of the others, so I suggest newcomers begin with either The Pirate King or better yet, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, which is the first in the series. See Laurie King talks about writing and Russell for more about King and her stories. ($26.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $14.18)
Barbara Roden's clever twist on the origin of the Baskerville hound is one of the best Holmes pastiches I've ever read. This collection includes four short stories, three of which have been published previously. All four stories are quite good, but I especially enjoyed two that had a mix of suspense and the supernatural reminiscent of "The Speckled Band" and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Her new story, "The Thames Horror," is a good read although it's more of a true crime/procedural than a traditional Holmes mystery. I only wish the collection had been longer, perhaps including a related ghost-story by M.R. James or another tale by Roden.
(E-book only, $5.99 Amazon US listing for Kindle)
While there are plenty of Holmes short-story anthologies, it's much rarer to find a collection by a single author. June Thomson has produced a series of these collections. Her stories are true pastiches in the very best sense: narrated by Watson, set in England in the 1880s–1900s, and involving the types of cases, crimes and characters found in Conan Doyle's original stories. Three of the seven tales are quite good and the others above average. I particularly liked "The Missing Belle Fille" and "The Pentre Mawr Murder," but found the opening story to be the weakest of the group. Her first two collections were excellent, but the others were hard to find, so I'm hoping The Secret Notebooks of Sherlock Holmes will also be good. ($29.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.77)
The year's best DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, videos, movie-related and audio items released in 2012. See also About the Choices.
Prices as of November 2012; subject to change.
The second season of the BBC's Sherlock provides a strong follow-up to the absolutely brilliant Sherlock: Season One. You need to see that first in order to fully enjoy the plot and characters in Season Two. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman once again shine as a modern-day Holmes and Watson, and the writers continue with their clever updates and allusions to the original tales. Just like the first series, the two discs feature all three original uncut UK BBC episodes including 8 minutes more per episode than shown on PBS. Those extra minutes round out the characters and add clarity to the plot and dialogue. Extras include audio commentary for two episodes and a 19-minute featurette. The Blu-ray has the same content but in 1080i60. Both seasons justify watching at least twice! Like the CSI TV series, some material might be too mature for children.
($29.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $21.86 DVD, $19.99 Blu-ray)
Like the first blockbuster Downey/Law Holmes movie, this action-packed sequel is visually impressive, with excellent special effects and fine picture quality, especially on Blu-ray. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law continue to have great chemistry, and Jared Harris gives a strong performance as Moriarty. The plot is more action-adventure than detective story, but that's also somewhat true of its primary source material in "The Final Problem." And like the first movie, I enjoyed this more the second time I watched it. The DVD has 3 short featurettes, while the Combo Blu-ray has 7 featurettes, a picture-in-picture commentary track and comes with an extra copy of the movie on a separate DVD. ($19.94 SRP; Amazon US listing $12.96 DVD, $14.99 Blu-ray, $24.96 Combo)
While he's not Holmes, Hercule Poirot is perhaps the second most famous detective and the Poirot series starring David Suchet provides good mysteries with fine 1930s Art Deco settings. The Series 1 set includes the first 10 episodes in their 1989 UK broadcast order. Most involve murder, and the first two borrow some key plot points from Holmes stories. They've been newly re-mastered, with pretty good picture quality on the 1080p Blu-ray, especially given the 16mm film source. Presented in 4:3 full-screen format with optional English subtitles but no other extras. Series 2-6 are also newly re-mastered. Worth trying if you haven't seen them; I suggest you start with Series 1. ($49.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $18.15 DVD, $34.48 Blu-ray)
Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee star as Holmes and Watson in a 1991 TV mini-series that at $10 is certainly worth watching even though it's a mixed bag. Set in 1910 with an aging Holmes, the action is restrained and the plot meanders, but the also-aging Lee and Macnee do respectable work with limited material. This 2-disc set is clearly better than previous butchered 2-hour versions or a 2007 release with audio sync problems. Running a little over 3 hours each, both films are presented in reasonably sharp 4:3 full-screen. Holmes makes more deductions in "The Leading Lady" while "Victoria Falls" felt a bit more like an Agatha Christie story.
($9.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $6.22)
In this 1999 children's animated series, Holmes is rejuvenated in the 22nd century, works with a robot Watson, and consults for the athletic and alluring Inspector Beth Lestrade. This set of 3 DVDs includes all 26 episodes in the series. Each episode is inspired by an original Holmes tale, with some as clever updates and others that will mainly appeal to kids wanting an action cartoon. Given the low price for 9 hours of cartoons, there's enough thoughtful creativity to interest adults, especially Sherlockian science-fiction fans. The animation is ok but nothing like a Pixar production. Unlike some reports, episodes 5 and 6 (Disc 1) played fine for me so that may have been fixed. ($12.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $5.99)
Conan Doyle's first great adventure was a real-life "whale of a tale." At the age of 20 he became surgeon aboard the SS Hope on a six-month voyage to the Arctic to hunt seals and whales. His diary for that journey is now published in a collection that includes a full-color facsimile, a transcription with extensive annotation, and much more. See my full review of Dangerous Work along with an excerpt and photos of the diary. This beautifully produced large-format book would make a fine gift, and is a must-buy for anyone interested in Arctic whaling in the 1880s or in a behind-the-scenes look at how a writer can translate experience into prose.
($35.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $22.35)
In The Norwood Author, Alistair Duncan focused on expanding our view of Conan Doyle's daily life during the early 1890s. In his latest book, he spans the following years when ACD lived in Undershaw. More than in many biographies, Duncan utilizes and reports on contemporary newspaper articles covering Conan Doyle. This often provides a "you are there" perspective and level of detail. His writing is fluid and engaging, and is nicely complemented by numerous photos. The longer timeframe and wider scope for the Undershaw era makes this book less detailed than
The Norwood Author,
but it's still enjoyable and useful.
(Paperback only; $19.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $15.56)
Absolutely packed with useful information, this compact seven-inch hardback provides 223 pages about all things Sherlockian. While it's most valuable as an introduction for new Holmes fans, even Holmes experts will learn something new. The authors cover a very broad range of topics with just the right level of detail, and their engaging style makes it feel like you're chatting with a well-informed friend. They discuss the origins of the stories, illustrations, movies, TV, radio, stage, societies, collections, pastiches, and more. The book includes many very good photos. Note, however, it's more of a narrative guide to the Sherlockian world than a reference book since it lacks an index or source citations. ($17.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $17.27)
Many Sherlockians take part in the "grand game" of treating the Holmes stories as true historical events. Their mock-historical scholarship seeks to explain inconsistencies in the tales and inform readers about the Victorian and Edwardian world, often with tongue-in-cheek. These are not Holmes stories—they are writings that speculate about the stories. This collection provides some fine examples from 1960–2010. Only time will tell if these eventually become classics of Sherlockiana like those in the now out-of-print Volume One, but you're sure to find some interesting theories. ($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
Better viewed as a puzzle book with a Holmes theme than as a test of Sherlockian knowledge, it still offers many hours of diversion in a 4 by 6 inch book. Puzzle types include crossword, wordsearch, kriss kross, word wheel, crossout, codeword, and more. Many can be solved with limited Sherlockian knowledge: for example, crossword clues are not about Holmes stories, but the completed puzzle provides an anagram that does relate to Holmes. I especially liked the codeword puzzles, which are like crosswords without clues. The few traditional quizzes are mostly easy, and unfortunately include some errors. While the book could clearly be improved for Sherlockians, at $8 it's a decent value for people who like puzzles. ($7.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $7.99)
All Sherlockians would like to own Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887, but even the facsimile versions are hard to find and often expensive. Although I've only seen the draft version, it sounds like a $14.95 PDF Beeton's 1887 e-facsimile will be a nice option for those wanting to see exactly what the first Holmes publication looked like. And researchers will be happy to learn that a $39.95 PDF e-facsimile of Geraldine W. Beare's excellent Index to the Strand Magazine (1891–1950) is also available. (Neither on Amazon; email the publisher for details)
The 2012 list was first posted on November 2, 2012.
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 2012 may not be on this list, so be sure to check my 2013 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 2012; those prices are of course subject to change.
Best Sherlock Holmes books and DVDs / Blu-ray from prior years