LONDON, UK - MAR 15: Benedict Cumberbach spotted filming 'Sherlock' in London on the MAR 15, 2013 in London, UK

The Best Retellings of Sherlock Holmes

The game is afoot, dear reader! Join me on a journey through the best retellings of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and Professor Moriarty.
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Few fictional characters have proved to be as fascinating and enduring as Sherlock Holmes. I’ve loved Sherlock pretty much my whole life, ever since I first encountered Jeremy Brett’s version of the character on PBS when I was a kid.

I’ll admit that some of the stories haven’t aged incredibly well—Colonial England’s legacy is stamped all over Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. Luckily, there are dozens of contemporary authors who are just as obsessed with Sherlock as I am. These retellings range from pastiche to homage to gentle parody, but they’re all great in their own ways.

Sherlock Concept. Private Detective Tools On The Wood Table Background. Deerstalker Cap, Magnifier, Key, Cup, Notebook, Smoking Pipe. Front View

A Study in Scarlet Women

Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series offers some of the smartest historical mysteries on the market. The fact that she reinterprets the Sherlock mythos into something totally fresh (and much more feminist) is just icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, however, there’s one point that I don’t love about this series. Charlotte Holmes is a wonderful character, but her obsession with food and her weight can be a little off-putting. Thomas chose to use food as a stand-in for Sherlock Holmes’ less savory addictions, but the result can come off as fat-shaming.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter

Don’t tell the other authors, but this might be my favorite Sherlock retelling of all time. Alexis Hall spins a dizzying gender-bent, alt-history Sherlock tale in The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. Here, our Sherlock is Shaharazad Haas, a world-weary and sometimes self-destructive sorceress. Captain John Wyndham is our Watson, but he’s a trans man with an almost painful sense of honor and propriety. The two of them hare off on an adventure through a strange metropolis that bears little resemblance to Victorian England, and yet there are enough flashes of similarity to Conan Doyle’s work that true fans will be delighted.  

The List of Seven

Mark Frost is the co-creator of Twin Peaks, and his take on Sherlock Holmes is as convoluted and disturbing as you might expect. A fictional version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the main character, serving in the role of John Watson. The inspiration for Sherlock is Jack Sparks, a secret agent of the Crown. Sparks has a sociopathic brother who serves as our stand-in for Moriarty. The novel is steeped in the Victorian obsession with the occult, with famous spiritualists Madame Blavatsky and Bram Stoker both making appearances. If you’re a fan of the classics from the era, then you’ll enjoy The List of Seven.

London, UK. 18th October 2012. Sherlok Holmes statue silhouette in London, UK

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Laurie King’s long-running series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is currently on book 17. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is their first story together, and it’s a classic. The year is 1915, and Holmes might be past his physical prime but he’s still as sharp as ever. When he meets Mary Russell, he finds a kindred spirit and the protégé he always hoped to meet. Fair warning: later in the series, they fall in love. Theirs is a May-December romance, and die-hard fans of the Great Detective might not be wild about seeing Sherlock in a romantic relationship–perhaps especially with a woman 40 years younger than him whom he met when she was a teenager. Basically, your mileage may vary on this series.

“A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman

Although this entry in the Sherlock Holmes Extended Universe is a mere short story, it deserves a place on this list for sheer excellence. Neil Gaiman is a master of fantasy, but here, he delves into horror. His Sherlock and Watson live in an alternate version of London where something monstrous sits on the throne. Many writers have injected a shot of H.P. Lovecraft into classic literature, but few have done it as skillfully as Gaiman. You can download a free PDF from the author by clicking this link.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUL 22, 2016: Main living room of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221 Baker Street, London. Sherlock Holmes is a fictional private detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Honor

Claire O’Dell’s debut novel, A Study in Honor, features Janet Watson as the heroine. She is a queer, black war veteran trying to survive in a dystopian near-future Washington, D.C. Janet meets Sara Holmes, a secret agent, and together they must try to prevent a new civil war and get justice for fallen soldiers. Odell cleverly remixes elements from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into something completely different. Not all fans will love this one, but I think it’s a really interesting and unique take on the Sherlock mythos.

Read More: Retellings of Classics You Need to Check Out

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Holmes and Watson are supporting characters in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, a pastiche of Victorian sci-fi and horror literature. The main character is Mary Jekyll, a young woman who has recently been orphaned. She believes that Edward Hyde murdered her parents, but when she meets Hyde’s literal wild-child daughter, she begins to question everything. Holmes and Watson help Mary track down other young women like her, the progeny—and, arguably, victims—of other iconic characters from classic literature such as Dr. Moreau and Dr. Frankenstein.

A Study in Brimstone

In Warlock Homes: A Study in Brimstone, the great detective isn’t so great. In fact, he’s a little bit of a buffoon. The real hero here is Watson, as well as author G.S. Denning’s impressive imagination. This horror-comedy is the start of a five-book series, so if you fall in love with the goofy yet spooky tales of Warlock Holmes, then there are plenty more treats in store for you. Unlike many authors, Denning does not hold Sherlock Holmes in great reverence. And that’s what makes this book so much fun.

Sherlock Holmes statue outside Baker Street underground station, London, England, UK

The Tea Master and the Detective

At first glance, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. However, a closer reading of the text reveals that Long Chau, the heroine of the story, has quite a few similarities to the Great Detective. De Bodard takes even greater liberties with Watson, however. In her Xuya sci-fi universe, Watson is artificial intelligence in control of a damaged warship called The Shadow’s Child. This novella is strange yet very rewarding, and you’ll soon see why Aliette de Bodard is one of the foremost writers working in science-fiction today.

A Study in Charlotte

The last of our twists on A Study in Scarlet, this novel is the first in the YA series starring Charlotte Holmes. Brittany Cavallaro’s book follows the great-great-great-grandkids of Holmes and Watson, who have inherited their ancestors’ penchant for solving mysteries. Charlotte and Jamie end up attending the same boarding school, and the pair of them don’t exactly hit it off when they first meet. A murder on campus brings them together, however, and they have to figure out a way to work with each other despite their clashing personalities.

To be honest, although this is marketed as a young adult book, I don’t know that it’s a great pick for younger teens. There are some pretty adult themes in this series. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but if you’re looking for something a little more wholesome, check out the next book on our list.

Read More: Move Over Sherlock Holmes

The Cast of the Missing Marquess

The first book in Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series focuses on Sherlock’s much younger sister. She’s just as brilliant as her brothers, and Enola dreams of following in the Great Detective’s footsteps. When her eccentric mother vanishes one day, Enola is determined to figure out what happened. Along the way, she becomes embroiled in the search for a missing child, as well.  

If you watched the Netflix movie starring Millie Bobbie Brown and Henry Cavill, then you might be a little disappointed by the book. It’s not quite as rip-roaring as the movie, but the series is a solid entry into the Holmes canon.

Baker street sign. The world's most famous street of Baker in London, England.

The Jewel of the Thames

Set in the 1930s, The Jewel of the Thames is the first book in the Portia Adams Adventures by Angela Misri. The nineteen-year-old amateur detective Portia is recently orphaned and discovers that she has somehow inherited 221 Baker Street, one of the most famous addresses in the world. Not only must Portia take on a series of cases to provide for herself, but she also must figure out what her family’s connection is to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. This book will appeal to fans of Sherlock as well as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, with its blithe prose and charming heroine.

Lock and Mori

In Lock and Mori, Heather W. Petty reimagines Sherlock and Moriarty as two teenagers living in contemporary London. When a murder takes place in Regent’s Park, Lock challenges Mori in a race to see who can solve the crime first. The closer Mori gets to solving the mystery, the more uncertain she is about whether the mystery should stay buried.

This book uses the complex rivalry between Holmes and Moriarty as a jumping-off point for a modern mystery trilogy. It shares vibes with the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock, so if that’s your cup of tea—and you love YA lit—then be sure to check this one out.