Canon Thursday: Desert Island Holmes Top Five



You’re marooned on a desert island, and you can only take five Sherlock Holmes stories with you. Regardless of length (novel or short story) and original publication chronology, which five stories would you bring along to be your companions and why?

(Keep in mind that if you meet a friendly native, these five stories will be the only things you have to introduce him or her to the fabulousness that is Sherlock Holmes.)

Here are my five. Leave me yours in the comments.

A Study in Scarlet: In some ways, this might seem like an odd choice. It’s not my favorite Holmes story by any means, and it contains that awkward, un-PC section that leaves most modern readers scratching their heads. However, if there’s no beginning, there’s no Holmes. Like Boswell, Watson grows into the role of biographer, and the reader joins him on the journey as he learns who and what his new flatmate is. The plot may not be the most entertaining of Doyle’s, but the voyage of discovery Watson takes is simply irresistible.

A Scandal in Bohemia: Unlike the more murderous tales, this one is a classic that concerns the intricate intrigues of the heart. It introduces Irene Adler, The Woman herself, and it features the rare event of Sherlock Holmes being beaten. One of the greatest masterpieces of the canon, and one I wouldn’t want to ever be without.



The Adventure of the Speckled Band: This is a personal choice for me, because it’s the story that scared me witless as a child. As an adult, I recognize its sublime blend of the gothic and the melodramatic. Holmes is fully on form, and the world around him is rounded out by terror and thrills aplenty. It’s the kind of story that bears the canonical fingerprint on every page.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches: When I joined the Baker Street Babes as a full-fledged member, I named this as my favorite story. Delving as deeply into Holmes as I have over the past couple of years, I’ve come to have several stories that are extremely high on my list, but this one remains one of my most preferred. It features an impressive female client, a situation that is delightfully creepy without ever being over the top, and it ultimately serves as an incisive critique of the way Doyle’s society treated women in the family context. It’s multi-layered and absolutely delightful to read over and over.

Rowe Holmes

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton: This is one of the mature Holmes stories, written in Doyle’s middle age and occurring post-Great-Hiatus. It features a very modern-seeming world where information is currency and secrets are as deadly as weapons. Milverton is one of the most compelling antagonists of the canon, and Holmes’s and even Watson’s ultimate actions in the story take them outside the law and into a place of personal ethics that are independent of the system. It’s a thought-provoking tale for the ages.

I can find something to appreciate in every Sherlock Holmes story, but these are the five I can’t imagine being without. They’re also the five I’d be pleased to put into the hands of an eager newcomer.

How about you? What are your Desert Island Holmes picks?


The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

4 thoughts on “Canon Thursday: Desert Island Holmes Top Five

  1. Pingback: Canon Thursday: Desert Island Holmes Top 5 « The Baker Street Babes

  2. Still giving the canonical original stories some thought .. but I would also insist on taking along Billy Wilder’s 1979 film, “The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes.” Love Jeremy, love Benedict, and I’m enjoying Jonny Lee. But Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond did the best job of recreating and extending the Canon with great affection that sticks closely to the spirit of the originals. PLUS their story offers a close runner-up to The Woman as an opponent for Sherlock (played here by Robert Stephens – and I wonder if Jeremy Brett took notes when his chance came to don the deerstalker?). And there is the exquisite Miklos Rozsa score!! He gives his own Violin Concerto Op. 24 to Holmes as a perfect melody to reflect Sherlock’s soul. Sorry to have immediately strayed from the clear rules of the blog question! But this is a film I have rewatched with pleasure as much or even more than I’ve returned to Doyle’s originals.

  3. But … but … but … You forgot THE BEST ONE – The Musgrave Ritual. It’s got everything – sex, the Stuarts and the 17th century, part of the regalia, geometry, more sex (apparently), revenge, madness, murder, and oh, don’t forget the Butler did it.

  4. 1) Hmmm…probably “The Speckled Band”

    2) “Copper Beeches”. Interesting characters all around and a really interesting plot with a frightening villain.

    3) “The Hound of the Baskervilles” – pure awesome.

    4) “The Five Orange Pips”, because Holy Hell is it creepy.

    5) “The Red-Headed League”. Always loved that one.

    Conan Doyle tends to be at his best when he tries to evoke a gothic/horror atmosphere into his stories, but “The Red-Headed League” is proof that he knows how to write good humor as well.

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