~~Moved from GR
(BTW, I have ~45/300 left and I'm DONE!)~~
The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes started out as Doyle's steady-money potboilers, a series of stories ground out in exchange for a paycheck. But they caught the public imagination, and Holmes' fame grew until he became the best-known fictional detective out there. Countless remakes, pastiches, parodies, and retellings later, Holmes has finally made it into a rather unique position: he is currently featured as an action hero in several TV shows and quite a few movies, and yet on the polar opposite of the snobbery spectrum, he is Literature--I even took a college course where he was included on the syllabus. With all of the revamps and remakes and recharacterizations, it's easy to forget about the original character. With all of the analysis and study of symbolism and historiography, it's easy to forget what Sherlock Holmes is really all about: a set of rattling good yarns.
Whatever your literary polarity, Sherlock Holmes is a worthwhile read. The stories themselves are fun and the writing style is surprisingly contemporary for the time period: lots of snappy and often hilarious dialogue, a humorous first person narrator, and quite a lot of action. I haven't seen--and have no intention of seeing--the various remakes of Holmes, but I'm not convinced they captured the characters. Watson also always seems to lose out in the remakes--in the books, he is a bit stolid, but certainly not a buffoon. Holmes's complex and quirky personality is perhaps one of the reasons that his stories captured the public imagination. He is not a lovelorn superhero; rather, he is a somewhat sociopathic, drug-addicted, lonely misanthrope. At the same time, he is very different from the cold and uptight Brett from the old movies--he has a completely wacky sense of humour, an obsession with disguise, and a tendency to jump into action, his trusty revolver at the ready. His personality is rather static--possibly one reason why Doyle tried so hard to make that drop off Reichenbach Falls fatal. I believe that he is the prototype for a massive collection of later detectives from Alleyn to Poirot to Qwilleran in which the detective acts as the single fixed frame for an everchanging cast of characters.
Plotwise, the stories may not be brilliant, but they are a lot of fun. They also precede the times when detective stories necessarily required a murder--almost all of the stories function without dead-body-driven action. Holmes' adventures range from a mysteriously disappearing league apparently set up to benefit redheads to a treasure hunt for a hidden chamber to a run-in with the KKK to frolics with supernaturally glowing hounds.
If you're reading for fun, I suggest The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a set of some of the earlier short stories. Holmes' adventures technically begin with the novel, A Study in Scarlet, but I think Holmes functions better in his short stories--more wackiness and variety. Adventures also contains the famous run-in with Irene Adler. If you're searching for Moriarty--who, by the way, is only even mentioned in a handful of stories--then he's in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which also contains the story "Silver Blaze," where Holmes utters his famous line about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. (But the dog did nothing in the night-time! Yes, that was the curious incident.) If you're reading for historical analysis, take a look at The Valley of Fear, which is nominally a Holmes story, but is really about violent secret societies in the US--interesting from a historiographical perspective.
So if you are interested in the history of mystery, or you're a fan of one of the various Sherlock enterprises, from the new show to House, take a look at the original. You'll enjoy it.