Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Twelve Best Stories?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published an article in 1927 in which he named what he thought were his favourite - the twelve best Sherlock Holmes short stories. His list is quite and interesting one and includes:

  • The Speckled Band
  • The Red-Headed League
  • The Dancing Men
  • The Final Problem
  • A Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Empty House
  • The Five Orange Pips
  • The Second Stain
  • The Devil's Foot
  • The Priory School
  • The Musgrave Ritual 
  • The Reigate Squires
This leads me to wonder whether these are in fact the Twelve Best stories. Of course a great deal of this list is subjective - and everyone has their own favourite stories. Interestingly, three of my favourite five stories also appear on Conan Doyle's list, but some of his choices are different. Such famous and beloved stories as "Silver Blaze" and "The Naval Treaty" do not appear on Conan Doyle's list, while "The Empty House" does.

From "The Five Orange Pips"
Granted, Doyle did put quite a bit of thought into his choices. However, he does not substantiate some of these choices (especially his more obscure choices). For example, "The Five Orange Pips" appears on his list. This story is a fairly odd choice considering there is very little detective work actually done of by Holmes in this story. Doyle said he choose the story because it was one of the more "dramatic stories."

Furthermore, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided not to select any stories from the last collection of short-stories, "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes." This is interesting considering that some of the best of the later stories can be found in this last anthology. "The Illustrious Client," "The Three Garridebs" and "The Problem of Thor Bridge" all coke from "The Case-Book."

I come now to the hardest part of this post - I will deliver to you my list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes short-stories. So here goes...

  • "The Speckled Band" - Doyle's story is by far one of the best from the canon. While not being a straight-forward whodunit, "The Speckled Band" is an early example of the how-done-it school of mystery, and is an early example of the locked room mysteries made famous by John Dickson Carr during the Golden Age of Mystery Fiction.
  • "The Red-Headed League" - Despite the somewhat outlandish nature of this story, "The Red-headed League" is one of the best examples of a mystery in the canon.
  • "The Six Napoleons" - Like "The Red-Headed League" and "The Speckled Band," "The Six Napoleons" offers one of the best mysteries in the canon. Although not all of the clues are presented to the reader, the twist ending of what was really in those plaster busts is quite ingenious.
  • "The Dancing Men" - One of the earliest examples of mystery fiction came from Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Gold Bug" which is centered primarily on code-breaking. Not only does "The Dancing Men" pay homage to this story, but also throws in a murder.
  • "The Problem of Thor Bridge" - Again, this story displays some of the best mystery elements in all of the canon, and features an interesting twist ending befitting of Agatha Christie. 
  • "The Illustrious Client" - Although there is no detective work for Sherlock Holmes in this story, "The Illustrious Client" features one of the best villains from the canon and plays out as a very dramatic story.
  • "Silver Blaze" - Surely one of the most beloved stories in the canon, "Silver Blaze" has yet another magnificent mystery plot and features the infamous line about "the dog in the nighttime."
  • "The Three Garridebs" - Although the plot is in essence recycled from "The Red-Headed League," "The Three Garridebs" is one of the best stories which truly shows how deeply Sherlock Holmes cares about his only friend, Dr. Watson.
  • "The Devil's Foot" - Surely one of the darkest stories in the canon, "The Devil's Foot" is an un-discovered gem.
  • "The Solitary Cyclist" - This interesting story combines high-spirited adventure with mystery and suspense. 
  • "The Bruce-Partington Plans" - Featuring the second appearance of Mycroft Holmes, this story features one of Doyle's most clever solutions. 
  • "The Sussex Vampire" - While not involving the same dramatic elements present in the other stories, "The Sussex Vampire" is a well-crafted little mystery and of course features the lines referring to the Giant rat of Sumatra.

Well, there you have it - my top twelve list. Please feel free to comment and tell me what your favourite short-stories are. What do you think of my list, or Doyle's?

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