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 2012.
|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||5|
|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 complete collection (all 60 stories)
Best choice under $30 (24 stories, including 7 of the top 10 stories overall)
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 Complete Short Stories (2 Vol. Set) ($95.00 SRP; Amazon US listing $59.85)
The Novels ($59.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $36.74)
The slipcased versions come with a handsome slipcase to display and protect the book when you're not reading it. It's best to start with the Short Story collection. You can also buy each volume separately without slipcases (see below), and these have exactly the same content as the slipcased versions.
If your budget is limited, I suggest getting just Volume 1 of the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (details above). It contains all 24 stories from The Adventures and The Memoirs, including the top seven Holmes tales, and is unquestionably your best introduction to Sherlock Holmes. You can always get the other books later. But if you want a gift under $15 or need a smaller, more convenient book, see the Oxford Sherlock Holmes below.
You can also buy the other two New Annotated volumes separately:
The Short Stories, Volume 2 (non-slipcased edition) ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $38.39)
The Novels, Volume 3 (non-slipcased edition) ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $38.39)
Oxford paperback edition ($12.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $10.45) Best Choice under $15
Some people may prefer a paperback volume that's less expensive and easier to carry and hold. I recommend the Oxford Sherlock Holmes series and, for a new Holmes fan, the first collection (The Adventures) in particular. It provides a high-quality text and scholarly annotations that don't interfere with reading the story. This is the best paperback choice for a new fan, with fine background information by Conan Doyle expert Richard Lancelyn Green. The Amazon listing makes it sound like it includes all 9 volumes in the series, but this is just the first book. It contains 12 stories, including 4 of the top 10 stories overall. Unfortunately there are no illustrations. However, for a single book this is the best Holmes gift bargain for a new fan.
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.
($16.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $12.37)
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 HolmesThe 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 inspired numerous movies and books, including Jurassic Park. You can get various basic paperback editions on Amazon, but I recommend the deluxe illustrated hardcover edition with annotations. ($34.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see Wessex Press)
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 $17.99)
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 $22.96 DVD, $19.99 Blu-ray)
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 $30.75)
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 $25.35; 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 $18.00; 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.
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. More About the
See also the two best Holmes movies for new fans above. 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)
The year's best books about Holmes or Conan Doyle published in 2012. 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 2012; subject to change.
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-check. 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)
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 2012 list was first posted on November 2, 2012.
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 2012 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 2012; those prices are of course subject to change.
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