A guide to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books in order

Wondering where to start with the Sherlock Holmes books? Let Conan Doyle expert David Stuart Davies be your guide.

He's the world's most recognisable detective, the subject of numerous film and TV adaptations, renowned for his powers of deduction and dazzling mind. But with four novels and fifty-six short stories to immerse yourself in, which Sherlock Holmes book should you read first? Here, writer and Sherlock Holmes expert David Stuart Davies gives us his guide to the Sherlock Holmes books in order.

From classic detective stories to gritty true-to-life cases, don't miss our pick of the best crime fiction to read now.

Step into the Hansom cab as we rattle down the foggy streets of Victorian London in the company of the world’s greatest detective and his loyal companion. There is a mystery to solve and Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are on the case.

The Game’s Afoot!

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) could have had no idea that he was creating such an enduring icon when his first Sherlock Holmes adventure, the novella A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887. Doyle explained how he came to create the character in his autobiography, Memories & Adventures (1924):

I was educated in a very severe and critical school of medical thought, especially coming under the influence of Dr Bell of Edinburgh who had the most remarkable powers of observation. He prided himself that when he looked at a patient he could tell not only their disease, but very often their occupation and place of residence. Reading some detective stories I was struck by the fact that their results were obtained in nearly every case by chance. I thought I would try my hand at writing a story in which the hero would treat crime as Dr Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of chance.
Arthur Conan Doyle

And so Sherlock Holmes became the first scientific detective who had a remarkable facility for making keen observations and deducing facts from what he had observed. 

Holmes first appeared in two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four (1891), but it was not until he featured in a series of short stories in the Strand Magazine from 1891 that his popularity and fame grew. The classic image of Holmes in an Inverness cape and a deerstalker cap, created by the Strand illustrator, Sidney Paget, became instantly recognisable.

When Conan Doyle died, Holmes was already an international phenomenon, in print, on stage and screen. The fascination continues today. Sherlock Holmes remains the world’s best and most famous fictional detective. But let's start at the beginning, when Dr John Watson, having returned from military service in Afghanistan, encounters the brilliant young detective Sherlock Holmes and becomes not only his friend but also his biographer. . .

Sherlock Holmes novels in order

A Study in Scarlet & The Sign of Four

by Arthur Conan Doyle

In Study, Arthur Conan Doyle created all the elements of the Holmes character and his Baker Street world that are still familiar and greatly loved today. We learn of his pipes, violin playing (a Stradivarius, no less) and his dressing gowns. We also meet his tolerant landlady, Mrs Hudson, and the plodding policemen, Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson. This is a thrilling murder mystery, which begins with a corpse discovered in a derelict house and the word ‘RACH’ written on the wall in blood. 

The Sign of Four marked the sleuth’s second outing in a tale in which Doyle introduced Holmes’ drug taking – a seven percent solution of cocaine - and also allowed Watson to fall in love with Mary Morstan, the detective’s client. The plot involves an Indian treasure, a brutal revenge, a mysterious one-legged man and his savage companion.

The Hound of the Baskervilles & The Valley of Fear

by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound is the classic Sherlock Holmes chiller. The Baskerville family is haunted by a phantom beast roaming the misty terrain of Dartmoor. The Hound now appears to be stalking the new heir to the Baskerville estate. Is the threat a supernatural one or the work of a devilish killer? Holmes is contemptuous of ghostly manifestations but the reader will certainly be haunted by the hound on the moor.

In The Valley of Fear a cipher message and a horrible murder begin this dark, powerful tale. Holmes suspects his old antagonist Professor Moriarty is involved. The detective’s investigations lead him to a moated house in Sussex and a bloody corpse, although the solution to the mystery lies halfway across the world in America in a location known as ‘The Valley of Fear’.

Sherlock Holmes short story collections in order

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is perhaps the greatest collection of detective short stories ever written. They first appeared in the Strand magazine, gaining Holmes and his creator immense popularity. In his consulting room at 221b Baker Street master sleuth Sherlock Holmes receives a stream of clients presenting him with a range of baffling and bizarre mysteries. There is the man who is frightened for his life because he has received an envelope containing five orange pips; the girl whose fiancé disappeared on his way to their wedding; and the woman who is threatened by strange nocturnal whistling sounds. Of course, Holmes is equal to these and other challenges. However. Doyle surprised his readers by having the great detective defeated by Irene Adler – the woman - in the first story, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia.’  

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes once again demonstrates his brilliance in Doyle’s second collection of sparkling short stories. Not only does the deerstalkered one encounter a set of strange and puzzling mysteries but we also learn about the detective’s early life as a sleuth-hound and encounter Holmes’s brilliant brother Mycroft, who is a member of the Diogenes Club, one of the strangest establishments in London. In the last tale ‘The Final Problem’, Holmes comes face to face with his nemesis, the weird and dastardly Professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. Their struggle, seemingly to the death, at the Reichenbach Falls was to leave many readers desolate at the loss of Holmes, but was also to lead to the character’s immortality as an iconic literary figure.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes & His Last Bow

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Holmes is back. Ten years after his supposed death in the torrid waters of the Reichenbach Falls, Conan Doyle bowed to demands to revive the character and so the master sleuth returns, to the astonishment of Dr Watson and delight of his readers. It is like the old days again, the magic unchanged and undimmed. Trusty Watson, the superb narrator, is on hand to record these new adventures. Amongst the famous cases presented in The Return are ‘The Dancing Men’, ‘The Solitary Cyclist’ and ‘The Six Napoleons’.

This volume also includes the collection His Last Bow, a dozen more gripping tales of mischief and mayhem to challenge the Baker Street wizard. In the title story we are told how Sherlock Holmes is lured out of retirement to help the government fight the German threat at the approach of World War I. 

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Casebook contains Conan Doyle’s the final twelve stories featuring Holmes. It is the perhaps the most unusual and certainly the darkest collection he penned. Treachery, savagery, mutilation and violent revenge are just some of the themes explored in these tales, along with atmospheric touches of the Gothic, involving a blood-sucking vampire, ghostly crypts at midnight and strange bones in a furnace. These challenging and often unsettling tales, featuring a brutal realism not found in the other collections, reflect the mood of the disillusioned post-war world of the 1920s, the period in which they were written. In the first story, ‘The Illustrious Client’, we encounter the most cruel and vicious murderer of all, which sets the tone for the subsequent cases.  Amid this grey miasma of crime stands the shining figure of Sherlock Holmes ready to unravel the bleakest of mysteries. 

Sherlock Holmes collections

The Best of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Here we have the distillation of the cream of the Sherlock Holmes crop of fifty-six short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. The choice, in the main, reflect the author’s own list of his favourite tales and reveal a fascinating variety of mysteries and crimes to be solved. As the king of detectives, Holmes had a long and varied career and this unique collection contains those cases which best demonstrate his abilities as a detective, the ultimate scientific reasoner, tackling the most intricate and challenging of mysteries with great aplomb. The cases, each one classics in the realm of crime fiction, run the gamut from snakes slithering down bell ropes, missing racehorses, the only woman to get the better of the detective and the bizarre ‘Man with the Twisted Lip’.

Sherlock Holmes: The Dark Mysteries

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes was the supreme rationalist who had no belief in the murky world of the supernatural. Yet this did not prevent Doyle from leading Holmes down some strange and unsettling paths where, at times, logic and the detective’s beliefs were severely put to the test. This volume is a choice selection of those dark tales together in one chilling collection. We begin with The Hound of the Baskervilles, the phantom beast of Dartmoor – ‘a hound it was, a coal black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.’ We then move on to other equally macabre stories in which Holmes, with Watson at his side, must tackle a vampire, encounter premature burials, strange human transformations and bizarre murderers, amongst other grisly delights. Goosepimples are guaranteed.