The Game Is Afoot: Ranking Sherlock Holmes Stories

Since December 2020, I have been working my way through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s corpus of Sherlock Holmes stories, in order of publication.

As of today I have managed to finish this adventure through the Holmesian Canon – all four novels, and five short story collections. Yay. To mark this occasion, I thought I would rank the stories, in order of personal preference. As one does.

Novels:

  1. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  2. The Sign of Four
  3. A Study in Scarlet
  4. The Valley of Fear

A rather conventional list of the novels, of course, though I would note that there is a yawning gulf between #1 and #2.

Short stories:

  1. The Devil’s Foot
  2. The Speckled Band
  3. The Norwood Builder
  4. The Final Problem
  5. The Blue Carbuncle
  6. The Red-Headed League
  7. The Empty House
  8. The Engineer’s Thumb
  9. The Dancing Men
  10. The Five Orange Pips
  11. Charles Augustus Milverton
  12. The Greek Interpreter
  13. The Six Napoleans
  14. Thor Bridge
  15. The Musgrave Ritual
  16. A Scandal in Bohemia
  17. The Second Stain
  18. The Copper Beeches
  19. The Three Garridebs
  20. The Illustrious Client
  21. The Naval Treaty
  22. The Bruce-Partington Plans
  23. The Crooked Man
  24. The Beryl Coronet
  25. Lady Frances Carfax
  26. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
  27. Silver Blaze
  28. The Abbey Grange
  29. The Retired Colourman
  30. The Dying Detective
  31. The Solitary Cyclist
  32. The Reigate Squires
  33. Black Peter
  34. The Golden Pince-Nez
  35. The Stockbroker’s Clerk
  36. The Cardboard Box
  37. The Resident Patient
  38. The Creeping Man
  39. The Priory School
  40. The Noble Bachelor
  41. The Three Students
  42. The Missing Three-Quarter
  43. A Case of Identity
  44. The Lion’s Mane
  45. Shoscombe Old Place
  46. The Sussex Vampire
  47. The Man with the Twisted Lip
  48. The Red Circle
  49. The Yellow Face
  50. The ‘Gloria Scott’
  51. The Veiled Lodger
  52. Wisteria Lodge
  53. His Last Bow
  54. The Blanched Soldier
  55. The Three Gables
  56. The Mazarin Stone

Deciding the better of the top two and the weaker of the bottom two was a difficult exercise.

I actually think the resolution of the Devil’s Foot is inferior to the Speckled Band, but I have a soft spot for the atmosphere of dark phantasmagoria, so I gave the overall edge to the former story.

In the case of the bottom two, it is really a question of what is worse – a cheap and hackneyed self-fanfiction of better works, or a disgustingly racist piece that makes you put the book down and cringe for the author and the character? In the end, I decided the self-fanfiction was worse. For all the racist faults of The Three Gables, it at least feels like a Holmes story. The Mazarin Stone is so bad it feels like Doylist Apocrypha.

2 thoughts on “The Game Is Afoot: Ranking Sherlock Holmes Stories

  1. The whole point of a list like this is to put one item in the wrong place to provoke indignant responses. So here you go: “A Scandal in Bohemia” is the best Holmes story, but you’re excused for putting it so low because being upside down all the time is bad for the judgment centers of the brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually expecting someone to criticise me for putting the Devil’s Foot above the sainted Speckled Band, or for thinking Silver Blaze belongs to the middle-rank of Holmes stories. I think A Scandal in Bohemia is a very solid story, but I get the feeling that its fame comes via subsequent pop-culture (Irene Adler as the woman who defeated Holmes), rather than for its actual merits. I mean, it isn’t even the best of the Reputation stories, that honour going to Charles Augustus Milverton.

      Liked by 1 person

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