Sherlock Holmes is arguably the most well-known fictional private detective of all time and also one of the first. His creator, Scottish writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories about his cases and adventures, narrated mostly through the eyes of his truthful assistant, Dr. Watson. In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to read all the Sherlock Holmes books in order.
Who is Sherlock Holmes?
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional investigator from the mind of Scottish writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He first appeared in Doyle’s novel A Study in Scarlet in 1897.
Holmes is a late 19th-century English character well-known for his intelligence, skillful use of observation, and deductive reasoning to solve difficult cases; his abilities often border the fantasy. Holmes is also always carrying his deerstalker cap, pipe, and a magnifying glass.
Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories for the Sherlock Holmes series. Most of them are from the perspective of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, with the exception of two stories narrated from the perspective of Holmes himself and two more written in the third person.
Many actors have played Sherlock Holmes in dozens of TV series and films, more than any other character. In 1964, worldwide sales of his stories were second only after the Bible according to The Times Magazine.
Sherlock Holmes is the archetype of the cerebral investigator par excellence and greatly influenced detective fiction after his appearance.
Although Auguste Dupin, an Edgar Allan Poe character, is a very similar predecessor, Dupin was never nearly as popular as Holmes and his author. Holmes actually belittles Dupin with his ironic egocentric tone in A Study in Scarlet.
Holmes has an ego that borders on arrogance, but it is often well-deserved. He enjoys and takes delight in baffling police inspectors with his deductions.
He is often glad that the police take credit for his work, with Watson being the only one who conveys this to him in his stories, but he does enjoy receiving praise from his friends and those who take his work seriously.
#1 Sherlock Holmes Books in Order of Publication
The Sherlock Holmes books in order of publication is a very straight-forward way to read these Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books. However, it is not the reading order we recommend.
- A Study in Scarlet (1897)
- The Sign of the Four (1890)
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) (Short Stories)
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894) (Short Stories)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905) (Short Stories)
- The Valley of Fear (1914)
- His Last Bow (1917) (Short Stories)
- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927) (Short Stories)
#2 Sherlock Holmes Books in Chronological Order (Recommended)
The Sherlock Holmes books in order of publication does not follow a chronological fictional storyline. This is why many fans of the series recommend not reading the series in the publication order but rather in the order we’ve specified here. We’ll briefly explain the science behind it below.
- A Study in Scarlet
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- The Sign of Four
- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
- The Valley of Fear
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes
- His Last Bow
- The Hound of the Baskervilles
How to Read the Sherlock Holmes Books in Order
Although there is a heated debate about whether it is better to start the series with A Study in Scarlet or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, we stay true to canon and suggest starting with the first one. Both are great openers for the series as they introduce the characters, their witty interactions, and their clever methods.
However, in the novel, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes meets Watson, and we find it prudent to start there. Only then continue with The Adventures, to delve a little deeper into the main character.
We continue with the second novel, The Sign of Four, where we will get to know Holmes beyond his figure as a detective. Doyle also reveals his vices.
At this point, we will make a small jump to one of the last books published, the collection of stories The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. We place it here because they are autonomous detective stories and serve as an opener for the interweaving of stories of the following books.
The novel The Valley of Fear was published in 1914 while the compilation of stories The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in 1894. Despite this, the events of the novel precede those of the stories. This is why we reverse their order by placing the novel in fifth place, followed by the book of short stories in sixth place.
From here we continue with the next book of stories, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which is a continuation. Moving forward we’ve listed His Last Bow, his final collection of stories, and the end of the Holmes chronology.
Finally, to close with a flourish we end with The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is the most acclaimed novel of the series. It is a masterpiece that mixes suspense, horror, mystery, and action.
#3 Sherlock Holmes Books in Order by Type
This list of Sherlock Holmes books in order is just to help you visualize the novels vs. short stories. If you’re not into short stories, then by all means use the list below. But if you do enjoy them, the recommended Sherlock Holmes reading order above is the ideal way to approach these books.
Sherlock Holmes Novels
- A Study in Scarlet (1897)
- The Sign of the Four (1890)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
- The Valley of Fear (1914)
Sherlock Holmes Short Story Collections
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
- His Last Bow (1917)
- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
Why You Should Read the Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
While you may not usually be a fan of short stories, the Sherlock Holmes short stories should be your exception. That’s because of how significant Sherlock Holmes has become to the literary world and how much the short stories contribute to that legacy.
For example, if you’re a fan of the BBC television adaptation, some of your favourite episodes may be adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
Furthermore, the stories are masterfully written, while also depicting Conan Doyle’s interesting relationship with his most famous character. Conan Doyle famously grew tired of Holmes and felt he was being held back by the beloved character. To his own mother’s chagrin and large public outcry, Conan Doyle — spoiler alert — tried to kill off the sleuthing detective, only to reverse his decision a short time later.
Short stories often lack the depth that comes with full-length novels, but with the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes, much is already known before you pick up the first collection. That is, if you follow our recommended reading order.
If you read A Study in Scarlet first, you will already have a thorough understanding of the world and the characters before you delve into Conan Doyle’s short stories. This will allow you to enjoy the beguiling detective and his prickly demeanour in short bursts as he solves quick crimes.
Through these short stories you’ll glean more details about Holmes’s endearing relationship with his flatmate and frequent narrator Dr. John Watson. As well, you will learn about the customs, science, and royalty at the time of Conan Doyle’s writing. During this era there was great social, economic, and technological progress amidst the Industrial Revolution that is evident through literature.
Finally, these stories are easy to follow and understand, while being the perfect blend of mystery, humor, and intelligence.
Summary of Sherlock Holmes Books in Order
In case you want to know a bit more about each of the Sherlock Holmes books in order before picking them up, here are the summaries to some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes works.
A Study in Scarlet
The story begins in 1878, when Dr. John Watson meets an old friend, Stamford. Watson was forced to retire because of a war wound and, upon recovery, fell victim to typhus. He is now looking for a place to live, because he cannot continue his current lifestyle. Stamford reveals that an acquaintance of his, Sherlock Holmes, is looking for someone to share the rent in an apartment at 221 B Baker Street. Thus, Sherlock and Dr. Watson end up meeting.
At first, Dr. Watson has a bad impression of Sherlock Holmes as he finds the smug way Holmes speaks very annoying. But it is not long before Dr. Watson realizes that his companion is not a conceited amateur detective, but a true genius of deduction. One day a message arrives from Scotland Yard about a recent murder and Holmes and Watson set out to investigate.
There is blood in the room, but no wounds on the body. They also see from the documents that they find the person, who was in London with a friend, Joseph Stangerson. On the wall, written in blood, is the word “Rache” which, Holmes states, means “revenge” in German. He deduces that the victim died of poisoning, and describes what he thinks the murderer looked like: Six feet tall, with small feet for his height, ruddy complexion, square-toed boots.
The second part of the novel depicts a story of the origins of the Mormon Church with links to a love story. After a series of ups and downs, Holmes manages to find the murderer and solve the crime.
The Sign of the Four
After the mysterious disappearance of her father, Mary begins to receive valuable pearls from an unknown sender. After a long silence, the generous character shows signs of life and wants Mary to meet him. The young woman asks Sherlock Holmes for help to accompany her. The stranger turns out to be Thaddeus Sholto, son of a good friend of Mary’s father.
Thaddeus and his brother have been searching, for six years, for a great treasure that their father hid before he died. Finally, after a great effort, they have found the treasure, which, following their father’s wishes, they must share with Mary. When they arrive at the Sholto residence, Thaddeus’ brother has been murdered and the treasure stolen.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is Arthur Conan Doyle’s third novel featuring Sherlock Holmes as the protagonist. It was published in parts in The Strand Magazine between 1901 and 1902.
Conan Doyle wrote this story after returning from Cape Town, where he worked as a volunteer. He was assisted in the plot by a 30-year-old Daily Express journalist. His ideas came from the legend of Richard Cabell, who was the inspiration for the Baskervilles. You can still visit his grave in a village called Buckfastleigh.
Richard Cabell lived during the 1600s and was the local squire at Buckfastleigh. He had a passion for hunting and was a “monstrously bad man”, rumored to have murdered his wife.
On July 5, 1677, he died and was buried in his grave, but that was only the beginning of the story. On the night of his burial, a ghost in the shape of a dog appeared walking all over the moor and howling at his grave. Since that night, the ghost can be seen, usually on the anniversary of his death. If he does not go hunting, it is possible to find him in his grave howling and shrieking.
Conan Doyle’s description of Baskerville Hall was inspired by a visit to Cromer Hall in Norfolk. Elements of the story were inspired by a stay at the Real Links Hotel in Cromer, where Conan Doyle first heard of the story of the Black Shuck, the ghost dog of the Cromer area, said to walk between Overstrand in the east and East Runton in the west.
The Valley of Fear
The story takes place in 1888, with a flashback based on Allan Pinkerton’s book about the Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania coal mines in 1875.
The novel has two distinct parts. In the first part, Sherlock Holmes, using his usual techniques, discovers the identity of a murderer. Once the murderer is apprehended, the story goes back in time and narrates in the third person the background of the murderer and the victim.
This narrative is based on the Molly Maguires, an organization that actually existed in the United States. At the end, there is a brief account about the initial situation and the motives for the murder, linking the two stories.
In The Valley of Terror, the participation of Professor Moriarty stands out, making Arthur Conan Doyle himself the first of several writers to ignore the fact, narrated in The Final Problem, that Dr. Watson heard of Moriarty shortly before his death, without there being any adventure in common.
The name of The Valley of Terror is a translation of the name of a valley in the south of France. During the time of the Crusades, this valley was popularized by the Cathars, and some believe that the Holy Grail came there from the Holy Land.
The influence of this work is clear in a later work by the American writer Dashiell Hammett, entitled Red Harvest. Many consider that The Valley of Terror anticipates the crime novel as a genre.
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