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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 2014.
|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 $40.19)
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.
The Short Stories, Volume 1 (non-slipcased edition) ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $29.14)
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 Novels, Volume 3 (non-slipcased edition) ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $39.95)
Oxford paperback edition ($12.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $11.69)
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.
($18.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $16.64)
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'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 $9.99)
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 $24.97 DVD, Blu-ray $30.02). After watching Season One, you'll want to see Sherlock: Season Two and Sherlock: Season Three. And fans should check out this Sherlock series companion book.
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 $24.07)
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 $24.94; 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 $16.09; 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.
What really happened after Holmes and Moriarty battled at the Reichenbach Falls? The author of the excellent Holmes novel The House of Silk and creator of the BBC series Foyle's War offers a fast-paced and rather bloody explanation in Moriarty. Holmes and Watson do not appear, and although Inspector Athelney Jones provides some clever deductive moments, Sherlockian purists may prefer The House of Silk. A short-story prequel to Moriarty, "The Three Monarchs," is available in the USA only as an e-book and is a fun pastiche featuring Holmes and Watson. Moriarty succeeds as a gritty Victorian thriller with plenty of action and a chapter-ending plot twist that invites a second reading. ($26.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.88)
In the face of a new set of Jack the Ripper style murders with possible ties to the royal family, Mycroft Holmes calls on Professor Moriarty to investigate and hopefully clear the prime suspect. All five of Kurland's Moriarty novels are well worth reading, and I suggest starting with The Infernal Device omnibus. Isaac Asimov said Kurland "made Moriarty more interesting than Doyle ever made Holmes." Kurland does a fine job of fleshing out Moriarty and introducing other strong and interesting characters. While Sherlock Holmes makes only a brief appearance, Who Thinks Evil offers good deductions and a nice spin on the royalty-and-Ripper concept. ($25.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $19.55)
The 12 new pastiches in this anthology include both traditional mysteries and stories with an element of the supernatural or science fiction. There are good tales of each type, though overall Mann provided a stronger collection in last year's Encounters of Sherlock Holmes. Philip Marsh offers a fun locked-room mystery, and Mark Latham nicely balances supernatural overtones within a conventional tale. Guy Adams and Lou Anders both tell stories that some readers will love for their creativity, while others will dislike for the same reason. The stories don't match Conan Doyle's style, but most of the tales are narrated by Watson and set in the 1880s-1900s. ($14.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $12.06)
Addie Strongwood admits she killed a man, but was it murder or self-defense? While Sherlock Holmes makes only a cameo appearance, the latest in Millett's series is surprisingly engrossing. It focuses on Strongwood's trial and is told in a "true-crime" style using a dossier of newspaper articles, testimony and letters that are organized to provide a suspenseful narrative. Millett places his series in Minnesota in the 1890s-1900s, and excels at bringing this setting to life. Try the author's first book in the series, The Red Demon, if you want a Holmes tale. He is an afterthought in Strongwood, but it is still a good read. ($24.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $20.63)
Denis O. Smith is unquestionably one of the best at writing Holmes tales that feel like they could be from the Canon. He captures the Watson style and tells good stories without gimmicks: no ghosts or famous historic figures need apply. His stories are mostly out of print, but this volume brings together 12 tales, with 10 never before published in book form. Holmes makes good deductions and there's a nice variety of plots and story lengths. Although wordier than Conan Doyle's tales, Smith's Holmes stories feel authentic. ($13.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $11.41)
The year's best DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, videos, movie-related and audio items released in
2014. More About the
See also the two best Holmes movies for new fans above. Prices as of November 2014; subject to change.
The BBC Sherlock Season One and Season Two brought a style and flair never before seen in Holmes on the screen. Season Three pushed the boundaries further, providing a visual and creative delight though with some sloppy plotting. That's a bit like Conan Doyle, who cared more about keeping a reader's interest than in getting the details right. Fast-paced and full of surprises, Sherlock practically demands that you watch each episode several times. Cumberbatch and Freeman deliver fine performances with exceptional chemistry. The two discs feature all three original uncut UK BBC episodes, which are each about 4 minutes longer than the versions shown by PBS, optional subtitles, and 45 minutes of extras (not shown on PBS) that are very good indeed. ($29.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $22.99 DVD, Blu-ray $30.19)
The first season of Elementary brought a more human Sherlock to the screen, and this well-written crime drama continued with a very strong second season. Episode 1 takes place in London and introduces the recurring characters of Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock's brother Mycroft. A few plots tie directly to the Canon, including one that is a clever and excellent update of "The Cardboard Box." The final eight episodes are especially enjoyable. Even if you saw this on TV, you won't regret taking a second look. The 6-DVD set has optional subtitles and an hour of extras, plus audio commentary by Lucy Liu on an episode she directed. ($64.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $29.99 DVD)
Fans of Sherlock should be sure to watch some of the Jeremy Brett TV series. These excellent adaptations, especially the early episodes, come directly from the original Holmes stories and Sidney Paget illustrations. The first 20+ episodes are outstanding, and even though Brett's failing health affected the later ones, those are still watchable. Start with The Adventures and then view The Return. The Blu-ray releases are new and opinions vary as to how much better they are than the prior DVDs. Part of that is personal preference, as the Blu-ray can show details and defects not intended by designers filming on 16mm for a small screen. Current DVD owners on a budget may want to wait until the price drops to around $100 for the Complete Series on Blu-ray. New fans can start with The Adventures on either DVD or Blu-ray. ($59.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $30.63 DVD, Blu-ray $31.49)
Part homage and part satire, this 1970 movie by Billy Wilder offered a more sophisticated view of Holmes. Mark Gatiss (BBC Sherlock) praised it as "a template of sorts for Stephen Moffat and me as we made our adaptation." The final release cut an hour from the film, and parts of those cuts are available as extras on disc. It's definitely worth watching despite the cuts, but the Blu-ray is not much better than the DVD, so this MGM Triple Play is a better value. Wilder wrote or directed more than 20 movie classics: for a sample of his range and how great he could be, see Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, or my favorite Stalag 17. ($29.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $18.49 Blu-ray)
For completists only, listed here because it had been difficult to find. This 1976 made-for-TV movie includes an interesting cast, but the plot is weak and there is nothing special about the movie. I was underwhelmed when I saw this on TV, and have not bothered to get it so cannot comment on video quality or extras. While a burn-to-order product should work on many players, a DVD-R is never as good as a standard pressed DVD. Get my choices above or something from ANY of my other Holmes DVD / Blu-ray recommendations before buying this. ($19.98 SRP; Amazon US listing $14.99 DVD)
The year's best books about Holmes or Conan Doyle published in 2014. 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 2014; subject to change.
Conan Doyle wrote a Sherlock Holmes parody in 1922 as a special gift for Queen Mary's Dolls' House. His miniature handwritten manuscript, sized for dolls, still resides at Windsor Castle. This tiny reproduction closely matches the original but is not a photographic facsimile. It comes in a clever presentation case that can be displayed on your bookshelf. See my full review of "How Watson Learned the Trick" for more details and photos. You can read the parody online, and the appeal here is more about the item than the ultra-short story, but this tiny book and case would make for a charming and unique Sherlockian gift. ($19.99 SRP; Amazon US listing $13.27)
The BBC's Sherlock spawned a vast new generation of Sherlock Holmes fans. Unlike prior Holmes revivals, these fans can use the Internet to share their enthusiasms and passions. This book provides 25 examples of some of their better work. Most of the essays involve the BBC Sherlock, though Elementary, the Robert Downey movies, and Canonical analysis all make appearances. Six of the papers are especially informative and insightful. While the others are generally good, a few are already dated by developments in later seasons of Sherlock and Elementary. ($24.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see Wessex Press)
When you need to fact-check something about Conan Doyle, Pugh's Chronology is the place to start. It provides a master index to hundreds of books, articles and select primary sources about Sir Arthur. This third edition adds more than 400 additional newspaper articles, expanding the book's main entries by 20 pages. These are valuable contemporary reports; my only quibble is these new citations have dates but lack title and page number references, so you need access to electronically searchable archives to locate the full article. Online stores like Amazon carry all three editions, so be sure to get this 2014 edition with the teal-blue stripe on the cover, as linked here. ($24.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $22.04)
All Sherlockians would love to own an original Sherlock Holmes manuscript, and now for the first time they can get a color reproduction of one. The BSI previously published grayscale facsimiles in a smaller format, but produced the manuscript of "The Adventure of the Second Stain" in a larger size and in color. This volume also features photos of the only known galley proofs for a Holmes story and a color reproduction of Sidney Paget's original frontispiece drawing for the tale. It includes an annotated typescript for the story, the history of the manuscript, and seven essays about the tale. ($39.95 SRP; not on Amazon; see BSJ website)
While there is no printed catalog for the excellent Museum of London exhibition, its companion book offers the next best thing to being there. This richly illustrated volume includes more than 200 high-quality photographs, drawings, paintings, and artifacts. Many are in color, and the book is a visual delight. The six essays explore themes from the exhibition, and will appeal more to dedicated Sherlockians than to casual readers. The first is dense and rather academic, though thankfully jargon-free. Four of the others are more accessible but still scholarly. Overall I enjoyed the essays, and all Holmes enthusiasts will appreciate the beautiful illustrations in this large hardcover. ($39.95 SRP; Amazon US listing $25.13)
Update 5/10/15: After the exhibition closed, a printed catalogue was also published.
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 2014 list was first posted on November 1, 2014. One item was added on November 7, and I added information about "The Three Monarchs" by Anthony Horowitz on November 21. I updated my review of Moriarty when it was published on December 9, 2014. A printed catalogue was published after the Museum of London Exhibition closed in April 2015, and I noted this next to the review of the exhibition companion book.
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 2014 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 2014; those prices are of course subject to change.