The First Lines of 12 Sherlock Holmes Stories

Sherlock Holmes Books

Ah, Sherlock Holmes! What kind of literary magic do his stories hold that even after 133 years, his fanbase is still growing?

I started reading Sherlock Holmes when I first bought a set of four books fashioned for young adults. There were about 12 to 14 stories with illustrations included in the set. I eventually graduated to reading the exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's unconventional detective via Bantam Classics' two-volume set of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories (Volumes I and II). I still have these treasured books with me. My latest Sherlock book find is The Sherlock Holmes Book by DK Publishing which every aspiring armchair 'detective' should have in their collection.

The first Sherlock Holmes novel came out in 1887 and it was set in 1880 London. "A Study in Scarlet" introduced us to the world of deduction, Holmes, Dr. John Watson, 221B Baker Street, the Baker Street Irregulars, Mrs. Hudson, and even to Inspector G. Lestrade. 

Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met in a dinner party sometime in 1889 hosted by John Marshal Stoddart. The Managing Director of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, Stoddart was in London to launch a British edition of it. He challenged both Wilde and Conan Doyle to come up with novella-length mysteries to include in the magazine. Wilde wrote "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and Conan Doyle submitted his second novel, "The Sign of the Four". What followed became literary history.

Similar to what I've written previously, The Beginning and The Last Lines: The Harry Potter Book Series, I've created this post for would-be Sherlock Holmes readers. To encourage people in reading Sherlock, I've compiled the first lines of each chosen story in the Holmes canon.

To further entice new readers to this type of detective-genre, compared to other Victorian writers, Conan Doyle's prose is easy to understand for 21st Century readers.  

Since there are numerous Holmes stories that came out, for this article, I've selected his first two novels and ten detective stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collections. I would consider these as my most-liked reads. 

In an interview conducted with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1927, he named the following among his favorite stories: "The Red-headed League", "The Speckled Band", "The Final Problem", "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Musgrave Ritual", and "The Reigate Square". I feel somewhat validated with my choices since Conan Doyle also included them on his list. 

The Funko Pop vinyl figurines featured in this post are based on BBC's Sherlock TV series. 

"I have chosen my own particular profession...I am the only one in the world." 

Dr. John Watson

A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Chapter 1: Sherlock Holmes

In the year of 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army. Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as assistant surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties. 

The Study of Four (1890)

Chapter 1: The Science of Deduction

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirtcuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny poison, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

Collection: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892

A Scandal in Bohemia

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably, balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.

The Red-headed League

I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.

"You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson," he said cordially.

"I was afraid that you were engaged."

"So I am. Very much so."

"Then I can wait in the next room."

"Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."

The Man with the Twisted Lip

Isa Whitney, the brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal of the Theological College of St. George's, was much addicted to opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De Quincy's descriptions of his dreams and sensations, he had drenched his tobacco with laudanum in any attempt to produce the same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. 

The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination.

Mycroft Holmes

Collection: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
Silver Blaze

"I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go." said Holmes as we sat down together to our breakfast one morning.

"Go! Where to?"

"To Dartmoor, to King's Pyland."

I was not surprised. Indeed, my only wonder was that he had not already been mixed up in this extraordinary case, which was the one topic of conversation through the length and breadth of England. For a whole day my companion had rambled about the room with his chin upon his chest and his brow's knitted, charging and recharging his pipe with the strongest black tobacco, and absolutely deaf to any of my questions or remarks. 

The Musgrave Ritual

An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. 

The Reigate Puzzle

It was some time before the health of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes recovered from the strain caused by his immense exertions in the spring of '87. The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public, and are too intimately concerned with politics and finance to be fitting subjects for this series of sketches. They led, however, in an indirect fashion to a singular and complex problem which gave my friend an opportunity of demonstrating the value of a fresh weapon among the many with which he waged his lifelong battle against crime.

The Crooked Man

One Summer night, a few months after my marriage. I was seated by my own hearth smoking a last pipe and nodding over a novel, for my day's work had been an exhausting one. My wife had already gone upstairs, and the sound of the locking of the hall door some time before told me that the servants had also retired. I had risen from my seat and was knocking out the ashes of my pipe when I suddenly heard the clang of the bell. 

I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve. This could not be a visitor at so late an hour. A patient evidently, and possibly an all-night sitting. With a wry face I went out into the hall and opened the door. To my astonishment it was Sherlock Holmes who stood upon my step.

The Greek Interpreter

During my long and intimate acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life. This reticence upon his part had increased the somewhat inhuman effect which he produced upon me, until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon, a brain without a heart. as deficient in human sympathy as he was preeminent in intelligence. His aversion to women and his disinclination to form new friendships were both typical of his unemotional character, but not more than his complete suppression of every reference to his own people. I had come to believe that he was an orphan with no relatives living but one day, to my very great surprise, he began to talk to me about his brother.

The Final Problem

It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion. I have endeavored to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance which first brought us together at the period of the "Study in Scarlet," up to the time of his interference in the matter of the "Naval Treaty" --- an interference which had unquestionable effect of preventing a serious international complication. It was my intention to stop there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill. 

Let me know if these first lines awakened the inner detective in you. 

Professor James Moriarty


The Sherlock Holmes Book. 2015. Dorling Kindersely Limited.

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories: Volumes I and II. 1986. 1988. Bantam Classic Edition.