Canon Thursday: Desert Island Holmes Top 5


 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?



amybioAmy Thomas
 is one of the Baker Street Babes and one of the review team. Have something you’d like her to review? Email her at

I am a knitting fiend and book reviewer with a degree in professional communication, as well as the author of two Sherlock Holmes novels in the Detective and The Woman series.

7 Responses to “Canon Thursday: Desert Island Holmes Top 5”

  1. Study In Scarlet – Best intro to two characters… ever
    Hound of Baskervilles – Best adventure story… ever
    Red Headed League – Great fun
    Silver Blaze – The Brett Holmes adaptation I first recall watching and remember most fondly
    Six Napoleons – Don’t know why but I like the weirdness I guess

  2. Elinor Gray says:

    STUD – for the reasons you say, the introduction of H and W might be my favorite scene.
    3GAR – the “loyalty and love” moment is perfect, and I have it tattooed on my arm.
    SPEC – for the midnight vigil, and Holmes’s wild reaction to the snake.
    HOUN – epic mystery, Watson spearheading the case and being crap at it, Holmes on the tor.
    REIG – because cases where they’re supposed to be on holiday are the bessssttt.

  3. SILV – My first Holmes story and still one of the best
    HOUN – Because… well, do we really need a “because” for this one?
    DEVI – Creepy, uncanny atmosphere, peculiar Cornish setting, hints of a dark side of Holmes (Dr. Moore Agar)
    REDH – a cornerstone not just of the Canon, but of the detective short story in a broader sense
    BRUC – “A yellow fog swirls past the window pane, as night descends upon this fabled street…”

  4. Katy Cheema says:

    Speckled Band: like you it just terrified me as a kid and is probably responsible for my ongoing obsession with Holmes
    Crooked Man: I love all the stories with an Indian flavour; this is one of the best (and actually quite authentic)
    Lions Mane: Holmes makes an excellent self-chronicler; I love his voice in this one
    Copper Beeches: just plain creepy; hair in the bottom drawer…..blimey!!
    Incidentally there is actually a housing development 5 miles outside of Winchester (Hampshire, England) called ‘Copper Beeches’, used to drive past it- would never ever live there….
    Hound of the Baskervilles: It doesn’t matter I know who did it,my heart still pounds at the denouement. Taken great pleasure in reading this to my kids as a great story and introduction to the great man

  5. I have to go with 5 short stories as I think them ACD’s forte (any order!):
    1.SCAN – model short story construction. Disguise. Irene Adler.
    2.SILV – my first love. Iconic moments (dog in the night) & the bloodhound Holmes.
    3.SIXN – Holmes on one trail, police on wrong track. Holmes’ love of the dramatic reveal. Moving respect of Lestrade. GLimpse of ‘human’ SH.
    4.EMPT – The hero reborn, back where he belongs with Watson. a case and 221b.
    5. BLUE: lighter vain & seasonal as ‘A Christmas Carol’. Whirl of Victorian London scenes. Display of Holmes’ methods.

  6. Stranded means I would have to take the 4 novels STUD, VALL, SIGN, HOUN – so much spare time! One short story to pick from – let’s go with SILV – since I use the nom Straker from it, I must like it the best. Wish the island had a theater, I’d prefer to pick 5 films, I’m more of a media guy XD!

Leave a Reply