As a character in the public domain, Sherlock Holmes has appeared in countless short stories, books, plays, movies, TV shows, comics, and presumably interpretive dances. But I have a soft spot for the original 56 short stories and four novels written by Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve read the canon all the way through many, many times. I have to admit, though, that while many of the original Holmes stories are rightfully classics, there are some that are, um…not so good.
As a public service, I present to you this definitive ranking of all 60 canonical Sherlock Holmes stories and novels from worst to best. Please note that this list is a matter of opinion, and also that my opinion is always correct, all the time, about everything.
60. The Adventure of the Three Gables
Deeply racist. Pass.
59. The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
This story is way too long for its flimsy mystery, and profoundly racist besides. Pass.
58. The Sign of the Four
I like Mary and Watson’s courtship and Toby is a very good dog, but the rest of this book is just—you guessed it—appallingly racist.
57. The Five Orange Pips
This is a story where the KKK murders three people and, well, that’s it, that’s the story. It’s also got a flavor of “What if the KKK went after white people? Wouldn’t that be scary?” Just a tasteless bummer all around.
56. The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone
Extremely boring. Also in third person, for some reason, but losing Watson’s narration drains all the life out of these stories.
55. The Adventure of the Yellow Face
I will at least say for this story that it is trying to be antiracist, but it didn’t age well. I just can’t get down with a story about the sinister uncanny valley aura of, um, a little black girl. Lucy Hebron deserved better!
54. The Adventure of the Creeping Man
Not to spoil a 97-year-old story but this one is about a guy who is injecting himself with extract of monkey to woo a much younger woman, which, uh, okay. The weirdest part is when Holmes worries that this will lead to a nation of monkey extract addicts.
53. The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
The later Holmes stories tend to be extremely implausible and silly but this particular one is not improved by the addition of ethnic stereotypes and the inescapably murderous nature of a *checks notes* disabled child.
52. The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
The series sadly ends on a bit of a down note, with a story that should be fun—drunken impersonations! midnight crypt desecrations!—but is marred by sinister cross-dressing and some good old fashioned antisemitism.
51. The Adventure of the Crooked Man
This story involves a pet mongoose, but unfortunately that doesn’t really counterbalance all the ableism, so.
50. The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
Holmes narrates this one, and he flat-out says that it’s not going to be as good as when Watson does it. He’s right.
49. The Man With the Twisted Lip
The opium den setting of the opening scenes of this story promises a seedy, fog-shrouded mystery that never materializes. Instead, it’s a technically crime-free case of a man disguising himself as a beggar because he can make more money that way (uh, citation needed, ACD). Minus points for the ableism.
48. The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
The best of the Watsonless stories, if only because Holmes yells “BEHOLD!” and then kills a jellyfish with a rock.
47. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
The mystery is good, even if snakes don’t work that way, but this story is absolutely riddled with anti-Romani prejudice and the g-slur, and I can’t sign off on that.
46. The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk
This is less “Holmes solving a mystery” and more “a guy tells Holmes about a weird thing that happened to him, and then they read the explanation of it in the newspaper.” Watson might have been overselling it sometimes, is all I’m saying.
45. The Adventure of the Three Students
This is fine! Holmes makes the brilliant deduction that only a very tall man could see into a very high window! It’s fine!
44. The Adventure of the Red Circle
Holmes cracks the impenetrable code of “some people speak Italian.”
43. The Adventure of Black Peter
Surprisingly lackluster for a story where a man is killed via harpoon.
42. His Last Bow
I’ve always found this story a bit depressing and it suffers from being in third person, but at least Holmes grows a goatee.
41. The Adventure of the Retired Colourman
“What did you do with the bodies?” is one of Holmes’s best mic drop lines, but my favorite part of this story is when Holmes yells at Watson for describing a wall too prettily.
40. The Adventure of the Priory School
The beginning of this story is awesome—a strange man bursts into Holmes’s rooms and promptly topples over in a dead faint—but the rest of it doesn’t live up to that promise. Bonus points for a horse disguised as a cow, though.
39. The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
There’s some clever back volleying and forth with a doctor with a mysterious agenda of his own in this one, but gosh, the end is sad.
38. The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
The actual mystery here is fairly implausible, although less so given how little Victorians knew how to deal with any animal more exotic than a badger, but the end is so striking in its pathos and Holmes’s helpless compassion that it makes this otherwise rather “ripped from the tabloids!” story quite moving.
37. A Case of Identity
A perfectly serviceable little mystery, with the added bonus of Holmes threatening to horsewhip a cad. I like it when he gets feisty.
36. The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
Holmes solves this mystery by smoking like 20 cigarettes in as many minutes. Were the Victorians right about the medicinal benefits of tobacco after all? (No.)
35. The Adventure of the Resident Patient
This story has fake Russian cataleptics and a lot of Holmes deducing things from cigar ends, both of which are obviously great, but it sort of fizzles out at the end.
34. The Adventure of the Second Stain
Holmes saves England from oopsing into an international conflict. Must be Tuesday.
33. The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
Really just a retread of “The Second Stain” but with addition of the second cleverest method of disposing of dead bodies in the canon.
32. The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
The actual cleverest method of disposing of dead bodies in the canon.
31. The Problem of Thor Bridge
Again, the solution to this one is quite clever and out of the box, albeit extremely dark.
30. The Red-Headed League
A classic! So silly and implausible even Holmes and Watson get the giggles over it; plus, as a redhead myself, I think I’m duty bound to feel a fondness for this one.
29. The Adventure of the Gloria Scott
This is another case of Holmes not actually solving a mystery so much as listening to weird things and then reading an explanation of them written by someone else, but I give it bonus points because it’s his very first case. Baby Holmes! So fresh-faced, so socially awkward! Bless.
28. The Adventure of the Reigate Squire
We get some good (i.e. nonsense) handwriting analysis from Holmes in this one, but I mostly like it because it consists largely of Watson trying to get Holmes to lie down and take a nap before he dies of something Victorian like agitated nerves or Too Much Fresh Air, and Holmes categorically refusing.
27. The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
Any story that begins with severed ears in a box getting mailed to the wrong person has to be good. That’s just science.
26. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
Holmes indulging his paternal instincts is charming, even if the Americans’ dialogue in this story suggests that ACD never actually met any Americans, but had them described to him once many years ago by someone who had also never met any, and also everyone involved was drunk. We also get Holmes’s baffling prediction that someday the U.S. and UK will merge to form a giant colonialist super-country, just sort of sprinkled in there for flavor.
25. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
I always like stories where Holmes does some real juicy footprint analysis, and this is a good ‘un.
24. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
Possibly the goriest Holmes story? I’m discovering an unexpectedly bloodthirsty streak in my nature while making this list, but hey, if we’re solving crimes here, let’s have thumbs be cut off with hatchets every once in a while!
23. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
Good deductive work from Holmes, arrogant bungling from Lestrade, and star-crossed young lovers who get a happy ending. What’s not to like?
22. The Adventure of the Dying Detective
No Holmes is more extra than Holmes pretending to die of a wasting fever, and Holmes is usually pretty extra to start with.
21. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
If you like cryptograms, this story is great. I like cryptograms.
20. The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
This is probably Lestrade at his most dickish, and it’s really entertaining. It’s even more entertaining when Holmes one-ups him.
19. The Adventure of Silver Blaze
Not only did this give us the classic “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” exchange (and subsequent book titles, Poirot references, etc.), it’s got a great twist ending.
18. A Study in Scarlet
The first Sherlock Holmes story ever published has a lot to like, including two juicy murders, baby Holmes and Watson meeting for the first time, and the sadly underutilized Baker Street Irregulars. I don’t even so much mind the interminable digression about the sinister, all-encompassing power of, um, Mormons.
17. The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
Abduction! Fraud! Greek translation! This story has everything, including the first appearance of Holmes’s even smarter brother Mycroft.
16. The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
I always like stories where Holmes walks into a crime with a very obvious solution and shows exactly how that solution is actually set-up, and this is a fine example of the form.
15. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
Now this is the stuff! Baby Holmes + treasure hunt for the crown of the Stuarts + sexy sinister butler + murderous scorned lover + algebra? What more could you ask for???
14. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
A heartwarming holiday story in which Holmes and Watson attempt to trace the origins of a Christmas goose with a purloined precious stone inside it. The whole thing has the general air of a farce, and I mean that in a good way.
13. The Final Problem
Look: ACD invented Moriarty as a hastily conceived way to kill off his own most hated creation, and “the Napoleon of crime” is wildly overused in adaptations for a character who had zero actual thought put into him. But Watson’s recreation of Holmes’s dramatic death gets me where I live every time, so I don’t even care.
12. The Adventure of the Empty House
The locked room mystery and dramatic climax of this story are good, but they’re still second fiddle to Holmes coming back to life and Watson literally fainting about it. Just imagine like a hundred praise hands emojis right here.
11. The Naval Treaty
Just fab all around. A twisty little whodunnit, a spirited heroine in Annie Harrison, an opportunity for Holmes to both brawl and be ludicrously melodramatic when he serves the recovered treaty disguised as a breakfast dish, and a hilariously weird digression where he deduces the existence of God from how flowers are pretty. A+!
10. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
This is such a fun, goofy little mystery, but the highlight is, of course, Lestrade’s speech about how much Scotland Yard respects and admires Holmes and Holmes becoming overcome with emotion.
9. The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
Like many of the later stories, this one is lurid and implausible, but it gets a relatively high placement for the intense scene where Holmes and Watson deliberately give themselves a bad trip and then lie on the grass talking about how much they love each other.
8. The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The titular cyclist, Violet Smith, is admirably spunky and I like to see Watson getting some solo detective work in in this story, even if he bungles it. Plus, Holmes wins a fist fight! Mostly, though, “You’re too late! She’s my wife.” “No, she’s your widow” is a baller exchange.
7. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
I just really dig Violet Hunter and her determination to help another young lady in peril. I also dig Watson’s thwarted matchmaking. He loves only his violin and you, Watson, I’m sorry.
6. The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
The drama. A murderous attack on Holmes, vitriol-throwing, a Cruel Intentions–style diary of sin! ACD didn’t hold back on this one, and lord love him for it.
5. The Valley of Fear
Valley does the same thing as Scarlet, where there’s a whole separate novel plunked in halfway through—Pinkertons vs. Freemasons this time, because why not—but I really dig that second novel so I’ll allow it.
4. A Scandal in Bohemia
I’m on the record as stating that I think Irene Adler’s influence in adaptations is disproportionate to her original canon page time, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s a badass. She outsmarts Sherlock Holmes! Plus we get not one but two Holmes disguises, always a plus.
3. The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!! Dastardly blackmailers, vengeful ladies in disguise, Watson putting his underutilized arts and crafts skills to criminal ends! Holmes solves exactly zero mysteries in this story but who cares when he’s breathing heavily into Watson’s ear behind a curtain while a noblewoman murders a scoundrel? Not me, that’s who!
2. The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
“It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.”
And that’s all I have to say about that.
1. The Hound of the Baskervilles
I mean, could there be any other choice? The Brontëan atmosphere, the looming threat of the curse, the complex mystery with its multiple red herrings, the thrilling climax…! There’s a reason this is the most famous Holmes story of all, and that’s because it still slaps after 118 years.
So what do you think? Am I right? (Of course I am.) Tell us your favorite Sherlock Holmes story, canon or not, on social!