Arthur Conan Doyle or Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (May 1859 – July 1930) was a Scottish writer and physician, known as one of the greatest writers of crime fiction and particularly renowned for his Sherlock Holmes series. He attended a Roman Catholic Jesuit school in Hodder Place, Stonyhurst and went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, where he started writing stories in his free time. Conan Doyle first published a story in a journal when he was 19.

Following his graduation, he sported a brief run as a ship doctor on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast. The first Sherlock Holmes story he wrote, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887, and while his medicine career didn’t go all as planned – Conan Doyle himself writes in his autobiography that no single patient crossed the door of his ophthalmology practice, – he quickly garnered the renown and praise of readers and critics alike for his Holmes stories. His Sherlock Holmes oeuvre spans 56 short stories and 4 novels that focus on the life and adventures of the most famous resident of Baker’s Street. His other works take on different themes, including historical works on the Boer war and even esoteric books on spiritualism.

Bits of a Formidable Character

Arthur Conan Doyle can with today’s eyes be seen as a man of strong moral composition and endless fortitude. He fathered five children to two wives, but while being in love with his second wife, Jean Elizabeth Leckie, their relationship was purely platonic until his first wife, Louise Hawkins, died of tuberculosis. His religious views were controversial, him declaring himself as an agnostic despite his Catholic upbringing. Conan Doyle’s last words were directed to his wife, and are said to be: “You are wonderful.” His epitaph reads: “Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, physician & man of letters.”

The Inception of a Great Series

As mentioned earlier, the Sherlock Holmes series started in 1887 with the publication of A Study in Scarlet. Holmes’ character was partially modeled on his university teacher Joseph Bell, whom he cites as an inspiration for the deduction, inference and observation skills he transferred to Sherlock Holmes. A Study in Scarlet has Dr. Watson as the narrator and tells briefly of how he came to know Sherlock Holmes. The crime mystery starts off in a rural mansion. A man is murdered and after not too long Holmes comes to arrest the perpetrator, using his ties with a group of homeless people. The story doesn’t end here, however.

The reader is honestly unable to guess the murderer as sufficient clues are lacking (this is characteristic during the inchoate stages of crime fiction) in A Study in Scarlet. The murderer, Jefferson Hope now takes the reins and explains of the sordid past of the man he murdered, taking the reader to North America and showing perhaps the position of Arthur Conan Doyle himself in the matter of the up-and-coming Mormonism in the United States.

The Final Problem or How Sherlock Holmes Returned

It seems that Conan Doyle always saw medicine as the nobler task to undertake as opposed to writing, and thus he sought to end the series after finishing another novel, The Sign of the Four. Thus in December 1893 Conan Doyle had decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes to allow him focus on medicine more. He had Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty pitted in a short story, The Final Problem. Here Sherlock Holmes has at last found his intellectual equal in the criminal mastermind of Professor Moriarty, and has to play a hide-and-seek game with the Professor for most of the story, taking a train to continental Europe and finally having a mortal struggle in the Swiss Reichenbach Falls, both evidently falling to their deaths into a gorge.

The public was less than pleased with how Conan Doyle treated Holmes, prompting him to write a prequel’ named The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was published from August 1901 to April 1902 in The Strand Magazine. Incidentally, this is one of the most praised Holmes stories penned by the author. The episode about Conan Doyle killing off Holmes only to bring him back again – which he did indeed do after The Hound of the Baskervilles – seems to tell about a passionate relationship between the author and the character, as Conan Doyle evidently couldn’t keep from returning back to Sherlock Holmes.

The Legacy of Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes series is reputed to be one of the main reasons behind the wave of crime fiction and has inspired generations of authors not only from the genre. More contemporary readers of this short overview will, however, appreciate a short list of the most recent TV shows and movies about Sherlock Holmes, as obviously listing them all – even the full-length movies – is a task a door stopper could perhaps accomplish only partially.

The most recent series inspired by Sherlock Holmes is the British crime drama titled Sherlock. Books from the Holmes canon are used by the producers to create modern-day versions of Conan Doyle’s novels, and six 90-minute episodes have aired so far. The series are immensely popular in the United Kingdom, and have been sold to over 180 territories overall. There have been USSR adaptations as well, releasing five hugely popular films on Soviet television, with one of the actors later receiving an Order of the British Empire.

Some Sherlock Holmes movies have also been produced quite recently. Of these notable are 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, both starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Numerous Holmes-related video games, table games and role playing games have also been released. Of course this is but a small list – the actual influence of the Sherlock Holmes series would be hard to measure. Remember the House M.D. series? House was definitely a Holmesian figure. What’s more, countless radio plays,movies – both preserved and lost – as well as books and actual people have been influenced by the splendid character created by perhaps the one most important crime fiction writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Books in order of publication:

Sherlock Holmes Books

A Study in Scarlet(1887) 
The Sign of the Four(1890) 
The Hound of the Baskervilles(1902) 
The Valley of Fear(1915) 

Sherlock Holmes Short Story Collections

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes(1892) 
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes(1893) 
The Return of Sherlock Holmes(1905) 
His Last Bow(1917) 
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes(1927) 

Gerard Short Story Collections

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard(1896) 
The Adventures of Gerard(1903) 

Professor Challenger Short Story Collections

The Lost World(1912) 
The Poison Belt(1913) 

Standalone Novels

The Surgeon of Gaster Fell(1885) 
The Mystery of Cloomber(1889) 
Micah Clarke(1889) 
The Firm of Girdlestone(1890) 
The White Company(1891) 
The Great Shadow(1892) 
The Doings of Raffles Haw(1892) 
Beyond the City(1892) 
The Refugees(1893) 
The Parasite(1894) 
The Stark Munro Letters(1895) 
Rodney Stone(1896) 
Uncle Bernac: A Memory of Empire(1897) 
The Tragedy of Korosko(1898) 
A Duet with an Occasional Chorus(1899) 
Sir Nigel(1906) 
The Maracot Deep(1929) 
The Narrative of John Smith(2011) 

Short Story Collections

The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales(1890) 
My Friend the Murderer and Other Mysteries and Adventures(1893) 
Round The Red Lamp(1894) 
The Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport(1900) 
Round the Fire Stories(1908) 
The Last Galley(1911) 
Danger! and Other Stories(1918) 
The Great Keinplatz Experiment and Other Tales of Twilight and the Unseen(1925) 
The Dealings of Captain Sharkey(1925) 
The Man from Archangel and Other Tales of Adventure(1925) 

Non-Fiction Books

The Great Boer War(1900) 
The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct(1902) 
Through the Magic Door(1907) 
The Crime of the Congo(1909) 
The Case of Oscar Slater(1912) 
The British Campaign in France and Flanders(1920) 
The New Revelation(1918) 
The Vital Message(1919) 
The Wanderings of a Spiritualist(1921) 
The Coming of the Fairies(1921) 
Memories and Adventures(1924) 
The History of Spiritualism(1926) 
The Edge of the Unknown(1930) 
Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure(2012)