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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
How do you choose the best Sherlock Holmes gift? There are hundreds of books, movies, and other Sherlockian items to pick from. Below are recommended presents for new fans, and a separate section for long-time Sherlockians that highlights top items produced in 2015.
|Category||# of Items|
|The Best Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories||1|
|More Stories of Sherlock Holmes||2|
|More by Conan Doyle||1|
|Books About Holmes & Conan Doyle||4|
|Free Bonus Items|
|Category||# of Items|
|New Holmes Fiction||5|
|New Holmes DVDs, Movies, and Related||4|
|New Books About Holmes & Conan Doyle||5|
For someone new to the Sherlock Holmes stories, the best place to start is by reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes followed by The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. These collections include the seven best Holmes short stories.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 Holmes tales. These are available in at least 10 different complete collections, plus many other copies of individual books. Because most of the Holmes stories are out of copyright, there are numerous cheap, shoddy, or indifferent versions of the stories. However, there are a number of good-quality editions. Each has strengths and weaknesses. I've listed the ones that are the best for a new Holmes fan.
Best choice under $15 (12 stories, including 4 of the top 10 stories overall)
A classy and classic gift for anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes. The complete set includes all 60 original stories, accompanied by hundreds of illustrations and a wealth of notes by Klinger that explain the Victorian world and delve into the nuances of the tales. It consists of three large (10.4 x 9 inches) and heavy hardcover books.
Slipcased Version of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes – Best Complete Collection
The Novels ($59.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $41.56)
These hardcovers come with a handsome slipcase to display and protect the book when you're not reading it. Start with the Short Story collection.
Previously they also sold each volume separately without a slipcase, but as of November 2015 those were not available. In case that changes, you might want to check for The Short Stories, Volume 1 (Amazon US listing) which has 24 stories including 7 of the top 10 Holmes tales. The printed version includes many illustrations and extensive annotations adjacent to the text, and so I think most users will find it more enjoyable than the e-book.
Oxford paperback edition ($12.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $11.69)
If you want a paperback volume that's less expensive and easier to carry and hold, get this Oxford edition of The Adventures. It has 12 stories, including 4 of the top 10 Holmes tales. Conan Doyle expert Richard Lancelyn Green provides an excellent introduction and fine annotations that don't interfere with reading the story. It has no illustrations, but the overall quality of information and accurate text makes it the best paperback choice for a new fan.
The Amazon link above takes you to the Oxford paperback. Clicking other formats on that page can display different (non-Oxford) versions which I don't recommend. You want the version that has a title page showing it was edited by Richard Lancelyn Green.
There are more than a thousand Holmes or Holmes-related stories by other authors. Some of these "pastiches" are very good, but unfortunately many of them are marginal. Opinions of them diverge wildly, so I've just listed two (plus a bonus) that have been around for 30+ years and are especially notable.
This book includes twelve short stories based on some of the untold tales in Sir Arthur's originals. The stories are written by his son and noted mystery author John Dickson Carr. The book does not appear to be in print, but you will find some copies listed at Amazon US
The book that sparked the Sherlock Holmes revival of the
1970s. Although set in Victorian times, in many ways it provides a modern
revision to the Holmes mythology. It's a bit more of a thriller than a
detective story, but a Sherlockian milestone nonetheless.
($18.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $17.26)
Bonus: Almost Sherlock Holmes
Short stories written in the style of the Holmes tales and featuring a very similar detective named Solar Pons. Highly recommended – more like Holmes stories than most pastiches. The series originally consisted of the following short-story collections:
In Re: Sherlock Holmes—The Adventures of Solar Pons
The Memoirs of Solar Pons
The Return of Solar Pons
The Reminiscences of Solar Pons
The Casebook of Solar Pons
The Chronicles of Solar Pons
These are generally out of print, but you will find some used copies on the Amazon Marketplace, or you can buy the complete set in a large two-volume hardcover as The Original Text Solar Pons Omnibus (ISBN 1-55246-077-0) for $200 from the publisher (email him for details). There are also Solar Pons stories by Basil Cooper, but I have not read them.
Conan Doyle's other classic creation took readers to a world of dinosaurs and adventure. It's a great adventure story and inspired numerous movies and books, including Jurassic Park. There are many basic paperback editions on Amazon. The best edition, now out of print, is the deluxe illustrated hardcover The Annotated Lost World edited by Roy Pilot and Alvin Rodin.
With his 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey, Jr. joined more than 70 actors who have played the great detective in over 200 films. That makes Holmes "the most portrayed literary human character" on screen according to Guinness World Records. New fans should see at least one of the top Rathbone films and one of the more recent depictions of Holmes noted below.
Rathbone is arguably the best-known Holmes of the movies. In part that's because he made 14 Holmes films, but it's also a reflection of his acting skill, his striking appearance, and the quality of at least some of these movies. All are on DVD, but there are many different versions. For extensive details, see my list of the Ten Best Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes Movies on DVD.
The best value for a new fan is a double-feature edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / The Scarlet Claw. It gives you two of the top three Rathbone films, plus extras including audio commentary for both movies, a photo gallery, and a trailer for The Scarlet Claw. Ignore the color cover and Amazon details: these are in the original atmospheric black & white. ($19.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.95)
If you prefer a film based on a Holmes story, Rathbone's Hound of the Baskervilles is his second-best Holmes film and a reasonably faithful adaptation of Sherlock Holmes's most famous case. You can buy it in a special double-feature with the lower-rated Pursuit to Algiers for a few dollars more than the separate DVD version. The double-feature gets you an extra movie while the separate DVD has a nice booklet and might have a little better picture quality.
There is a Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection 5-DVD set for people who want a good deal on all 14 movies, but be aware that Amazon prices for it have ranged from about $70 to $110.
Although not a movie, this new vision of Holmes in present-day London truly captures the sense and spirit of the Conan Doyle stories and characters. Sherlockians will delight in the clever use of elements from the originals, while casual viewers will enjoy the fast-paced modern mysteries and adventures. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman dazzle as Holmes and Watson. The two discs feature all three original uncut UK BBC episodes, which are each 8 minutes longer than the abridged versions shown by PBS in the USA. See my 2010 review of Sherlock: Season One for details on the disc Extras. The Blu-ray has the same content but in 1080i. Like the CSI TV series, some material might be too mature for children. ($34.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $24.96 DVD, Blu-ray/Multi-Format $24.99).
Coming in 2016 is another BBC episode, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride.
This marvelous book offers the best introduction and general reference to the world of Sherlock Holmes. First get and read the original Conan Doyle stories – then get this book for a background to the tales and everything they've spawned. Besides covering all the stories, it discusses the characters, the themes, the movie and television versions, the Victorian era, Conan Doyle, and the entire Holmes phenomenon. It's an essential book if you don't have an annotated edition, and still useful even if you do have one. While there are other similar types of books, this one gets the facts right and is the best-written. Chris Redmond is a noted Sherlockian expert: be sure to get the 2009 second edition by him, not something by other authors with similar titles. ($32.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $26.49)
This up-to-date, comprehensive biography of Conan Doyle is ideal for new fans and even seasoned Sherlockians. Lycett's careful research included access to the Conan Doyle archives, and unlike almost all other Conan Doyle biographies, it provides extensive source notes. ($32.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $26.19; also in hardcover)
The first book of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's private letters provides a first-hand, unvarnished account of his life until 1920. See my detailed review of A Life in Letters. While a biography offers a broader view of his life and work, these letters reveal details of everyday life and give a more personal impression of Doyle the man. ($18.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.13; also in hardcover)
Anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle should consider subscribing to at least one of these two leading journals on the subject. The Baker Street Irregulars, an American literary society, has published The Baker Street Journal since 1946. The Sherlock Holmes Society of London publishes The Sherlock Holmes Journal. See the BSJ website and the SHSL website for details.
Peter E. Blau produces Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, a monthly newsletter that is available in printed form or for free online via his Scuttlebutt web page. Roger Johnson publishes The District Messenger, the newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, which is available free via email or online at the SHSL District Messenger webpage.
Despite a dubious concept of stories that take place outside of England, this anthology of 15 new Holmes tales manages to deliver a number that most readers will enjoy. Dennis O. Smith excels at the Watson style and provides a fine traditional Holmes mystery. William Meikle offers a solid adventure in the catacombs of Malta, Alison Littlewood provides an atmospheric tale with supernatural questions, and Nev Fountain adroitly twists the worlds of Holmes, Conan Doyle and Houdini. Overall the book is a good value, although many stories are not conventional Holmes tales and I suspect readers will skim over a few that are simply not to their taste. ($14.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $10.91)
An anarchist plot and a forged painting lead Holmes and Watson into a treasure hunt with elements reminiscent of The Sign of Four. Their quest takes them to a fiendish Chinese villain and a master criminal known as The Albino. Douglas, who wrote a strong short story in Encounters of Sherlock Holmes (2013), sets the tale in a realistic version of 1896 London, and fills it with characters that are neither wholly good nor entirely bad. Like Conan Doyle, some of his plot points don't withstand close scrutiny, but his style is reasonably Victorian and his story carries you briskly along for an enjoyable Sherlockian adventure. ($9.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $9.16)
Clever twists abound in this eclectic anthology of all-new stories by top writers. But be warned: like A Study in Sherlock, the Holmes connections are sometimes very loose, and these are not traditional Holmes mysteries. They include a retelling of "Silver Blaze" from the horse's perspective, and a recap of The Hound as Facebook-style posts. Three of the best are Jeffrey Deaver's modern tale of a brilliant man who finds his hero in the Holmes stories, Michael Dirda's delightful sendup of the "grand game," and Nancy Holder's spin on the aftermath of "The Beryl Coronet." ($24.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.05 hardcover, paperback available Dec. 7, 2015)
Marcum's five Holmes short stories have Watson as narrator, Holmes as the main character, settings in 1878 to 1905 England, and plots that don't rely on the supernatural, science fiction, or famous historical or literary personas. Unlike the Canon, these stories often involve multiple cases, with some in flashback. Recounting past experiences works well in a tale involving Wiggins's mother, but makes some of the others seem a bit passive. His shortest story, the "Goat-Cart Man," is pleasingly eccentric and felt the most like the Canon. While no one can write short stories like Conan Doyle, Marcum's collection will appeal to those who like the traditional elements of the Holmes tales. ($14.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $14.95)
If you could own only one anthology of Holmes pastiches, this is your best choice. Noted mystery expert Otto Penzler selects 83 of the most important pastiches and parodies, and includes introductions to each one with key background about it and its author. Originally published from the 1890s to the 2000s, these stories are all reprints and thus long-time Sherlockians will own many of them already. Yet I found some that I had never read before, and enjoyed revisiting others, especially with Penzler's introductions. ($25.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.32)
The year's best DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, videos, movie-related and audio items released in
2015. More About the
See also the two best Holmes movies for new fans above. Prices as of November 2015; subject to change.
Long thought to be lost, this silent-film version of Gillette's famous play was found in 2014 and restored to nearly original condition. It's worth getting purely for the chance to finally see Gillette in action as Holmes. Highlights include Gillette's performance, excellent picture quality for a 1916 film, and numerous extras in this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. These include the full 11.5 minutes of Conan Doyle's Fox Movietone interview, and it's fascinating to see and hear him. Robert Byrne gives a superb presentation about restoring the film. A 20-page booklet has several excellent essays. All the extras are on both Blu-ray and DVD except for the play script and contract, which are on DVD only. ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $34.99 DVD+Blu-ray combo)
Fans of the BBC Sherlock series should not miss this spectacular book with the inside story covering all three seasons of the show. With color photos on almost every page, this deluxe hardcover is a delight to browse and full of fascinating details. You learn about how the show was developed, casting, sets, production choices, deleted scenes, and more. Commentary by cast and crew adds yet another dimension. I knew some of this from the "extras" on DVDs and various news reports, but Steve Tribe pulls it all together and expands on it to provide an engrossing book that's as much fun to read as the show is to watch. ($29.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $21.77)
The first season of Elementary was a wonderful surprise, and the second season continued this excellent mystery and drama series. Now with more episodes in the series than there were original Holmes stories, the third season largely maintains the strong twisty plots while making the characters even more human and believable. It features an extended story arc with Kitty Winter, played very well indeed by Ophelia Lovibond, and other elements from "The Illustrious Client." I enjoyed watching this season on DVD at least as much as my first viewing on CBS. The 6-DVD set includes an hour of extras, most of which are quite interesting, as well as optional subtitles and an audio commentary by Lucy Liu on an episode she directed. ($55.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $31.99 DVD)
Ian McKellen gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a 93-year old Holmes struggling with failing mental and physical health. Based on A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, this leisurely character-based drama relies on a well-crafted script with multiple timelines to hold your interest. The great acting and fine cinematography stand out in this emotionally involving film that ends up being melancholy rather than entirely downbeat. It will likely appeal more to those over 50 than to younger people looking for action or mystery. The DVD will be released November 10, so this review is based only on the theatrical version. ($19.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $10.74 DVD, Blu-ray $16.98)
Not yet reviewed. Available January 2016. ($22.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.99 DVD, Blu-ray $21.99)
Completists or fans of period dramas might want to consider this miniseries based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Julian Barnes. Good costumes and location shooting enhance the production, and Martin Clunes makes for a believable Doyle. However, the script is middling, with uneven pacing that covers only a small part of the book and invents new material. Running less than 2.5 hours, it's best watched at one sitting. The DVD is relatively expensive and lacks any extras, though the optional English subtitles can be helpful as the accents and background noise can make it difficult to catch all the dialogue. Overall it's not bad, but most will find the novel to be more impressive. ($34.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $21.69 DVD, Blu-ray $27.79)
The year's best books about Holmes or Conan Doyle published in 2015. Listed in order by author; more About the Choices and E-books.
See also the best books about Holmes & Conan Doyle for new fans above. Prices as of November 2015; subject to change.
Newspapers provide the first rough draft of history and are invaluable sources, even if they often get some points wrong. Digital archives make these old reports more accessible, and the editors improved on these databases through careful selections and valuable annotations. They wisely placed articles in chronological order for casual reading and easy reference. Equally important, they included an extensive index for researchers. While the book has very limited magazine coverage, it's an incredibly handy reference and can give you a contemporary perspective on Holmes and Conan Doyle. ($32.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see Wessex Press)
Even if you've never listened to a Holmes story, this insider account of the BBC Radio series is well worth reading. As the head writer from 1987 to 2010, Coules describes the origins of the series, how it developed, and how they adapted print stories into radio plays. Unlike straight text readings, these shows (starring Clive Merrison, at Amazon) were "imaginatively faithful" to the original tales. He gives first-hand details about writing and producing radio drama, and includes numerous examples from his scripts. With many color photos and a complete 45-page script from one of the shows, this new 297-page edition manages to be both fun to read and very informative. ($22.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see Wessex Press)
James Bliss Austin excelled as a businessman, a scientist, a scholar, and a collector. He was also a generous mentor to novice Holmes fans. His superb Sherlockian writings spanned more than 30 years, including a classic grand game paper "What Son Was Watson" (reprinted in this volume) and a legendary investigation of Helene Yuhasova presented at the 1976 BSI Dinner. Using both published sources and numerous personal interviews, this highly readable biography includes many fascinating stories about BSI Dinners, Sherlockian rarities, and other Sherlockian history. And in a nice improvement over many BSI books, it includes an index. ($21.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
This companion volume to Lellenberg's historical espionage novel, Baker Street Irregular, provides a fascinating look into how he researched and wrote that story. It also offers a wealth of detail on American Sherlockians in the 1930s and 1940s, and thus a view into BSI history. Parts of it would be instructive to anyone thinking about writing historical fiction, but its core function is to annotate his novel and so is best read either in conjunction with the novel or shortly after finishing that book. The two work together to make the novel even more interesting. ($20.00 including postage; not on Amazon; see the author's website)
A generous offer by an American publisher encouraged Conan Doyle to bring Holmes back from the dead. He began the new series with "The Adventure of the Empty House," and this volume includes a facsimile of his original manuscript. As with Irregular Stain (2014), the 10x7 inch format is comfortable to hold and read while being large enough to show the details. However, the images are in grayscale, so some may prefer the color reproductions in Irregular Stain. As usual, the volume contains a side-by-side transcription of the manuscript with annotations, as well as the history of this rarity and some fine essays about various aspects of the story. ($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
See my Sherlock Chronicles review in the DVD section above for information on this excellent book about the BBC Sherlock series.
This site first published its "Best of Year" reviews and recommendations in 2009. See all the previous best Holmes books and DVDs / Blu-ray selections. People just getting started with Holmes should see the best choices for new Sherlockians at the top of the current page.
This page's 2015 list was first posted on November 1, 2015. I expanded my review of the Gillette Blu-ray/DVD when it was released on November 10, 2015.
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.
The good news for people interested in Sherlock Holmes is that there are so many books and related items beyond the original 60 tales. The bad news is there are so many items – how do you choose what to get? I've tried to simplify things by highlighting the best material for a new Sherlockian, and the best new items for long-time Sherlockians.
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.
Selection criteria include my personal evaluation, other reviews, and price/value considerations. I read numerous Sherlockian publications for recommended new material and try to examine their top choices. For very new or unpublished items, I try to get advance copies or enough information to render a judgment. However, in order to publish this review before the holidays, items released after October 15 are usually evaluated for next year's list.
I've found all the items on this page to be enjoyable and/or useful, and place them among the best in their category. They've also received strong positive reviews from Sherlockian and/or general publications. Finally, in selecting items I consider both quality and price/value.
I limit the number of items in order to make this list easier and faster for people to use. However, that does mean there are some very good items that didn't quite make my list. And it's possible that I simply didn't get a chance to evaluate some 2015 items – feel free to send me email if you think there is something that should be on the list.
In most cases I've given both the U.S. suggested retail price (SRP) and the price at Amazon as of November 2015; those prices are of course subject to change.