Following my recent post in which I ranked my top 10 favourite Sherlock Holmes short stories, I decided it was time to tackle and discuss briefly the four novels penned by Conan Doyle.
As with the short stories, I’ve always found difficulty in how best to rank them as they each have their own particular attractions. Besides the characters and the world they inhabit, the narratives are engaging and thought-provoking.
Cutting a long story short (no pun intended of course), here is my ranking:
The Sign of the Four
The Hound of the Baskervilles
A Study in Scarlet
The Valley of Fear
Had I written this post a few months ago, I would have struggled to put The Valley of Fear in second place. What changed then? I’m honestly not sure.
That The Sign of the Four should earn top prize was an undisputed fact ever since I finished the last page. Containing pretty much anything a Sherlock Holmes fan could wish for: the majority of Conan Doyle characters, running through London’s streets in search of clues, Mary Morstan, treasure-hunting and more, it guarantees the title of best Sherlock Holmes novel in my mind.
I approached The Hound of the Baskervilles with some hesitation. Before I had ever read a page of this book, I knew it was on most Holmes fans’ lips as the best story out there. I failed to comprehend why a narrative, which took place mostly outside of London and reputedly featured barely any presence of the titular character, could be so much loved. How wrong I was! The foreboding atmosphere, Watson’s correspondence, the constant supernatural threat, are all great qualities of an equally-superb piece of writing.
A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear suffer from an odd and anti-climactic narrative structure. Doyle’s decision to break-off the main storyline halfway through the book, and then veer off into events and places which are, at first, in no way related to the case, is both commendable and distracting.
A Study in Scarlet boasts the finest introduction to the character of Sherlock Holmes. Watson’s exploits in search of lodging and his run-in with what would become his closest of friends is memorable and exciting. The investigations into the case are also entertaining and that same thrill of the investigation also shines on the first part of The Valley of Fear. With both novels, Doyle then switches tactics and retells the stories from another perspective till the ending circles back to the beginning.
As I said, this is an interesting choice of writing but one that imposes a substantial risk of alienating the reader by seemingly abandoning our main characters and introducing us to others who are, as yet, in no way related to the narrative.
Let us know what YOU think about the Sherlock Holmes novels in the comments below! 🙂
Till next time …