The game remains afoot!
The Sherlock Holmes stories were the source of modern crime-solving adaptations that we now experience in television, and Doyle's tales of mystery and adventure were often audacious, insightful and clever. The real draw of his stories is the process of crime detection ("deductive reasoning") that Doyle allows the readers to understand, experience and apply themselves alongside Watson as Holmes investigates the cases.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes volumes 1 and 2 by Bantam publishing co. had never changed its price from the first time I bought it back in 2003 until the present. They're affordable and therefore anyone who is interested in the Great Detective will have an easy access. With the modern adaptations of Holmes lately (from the Guy Ritchie films to BBC's Sherlock), a new reader may be surprised to find out that Doyle's stories are more self-contained as opposed to the James-Bond tone and setting of the modern interpretations mentioned (in fact, the American adaptation Elementary is a lot more faithful to the original structure of the narrative). Nevertheless, the Doyle canon (composed of 56 short stories classified into the Adventures, Memoirs, Return, His Last Bow and Casebook; and four novels) are more engrossing and intimate to read as Watson's accounts manages to illuminate Holmes' methods as well as humanize the often callous, razor-sharp and unfeeling sleuth.
Volume 1 encompasses The Adventures, The Memoirs and the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. A Scarlet in Scarlet has an unusual structure; the first part was the formulaic detective exposition with the introduction of the characters, the presentation of the crime, and the roster of suspects. The second part was entirely a flashback that reveals the history of the criminal himself which is quite a perplexing plot device and Doyle had definitely experimented the first time around but has since learned to contain his cases with more creative restraint. The Sign of Four, my personal favorite, was about as close as to romance as a Holmes story could get, possibly because of Watson's relationship with his wife-to-be Mary Morstan and the struggles she faced pertaining to her heirloom. The next set of short stories, Adventures and Memoirs, are each composed of twelve cases and some of them are most unforgettable because of the blend of absurdity and horror (such as the Musgrave Ritual, Five Orange Pips, Red-Headed league and Speckled Band). The Final Problem marks the death of Sherlock Holmes which the public vehemently protested so Doyle was forced to revive his sleuth and hence the second volume of the canon.
Volume 2 contains the ever-popular The Hound of Baskervilles and the chilling novel A Valley of Fear. The short stories are divided into The Return, The Casebook and His Last Bow. My favorites include The Problem of Thor Bridge, Devil's Foot, The Dying Detective, The Illustrious Client, and His Last Bow. Holmes himself got to write his own accounts of the cases in The Blanched Solider and The Lion's Mane (which are both odd tales and here it is revealed once and for all that Watson's narrative voice is a lot more beguiling than Holmes' dry and scientific approach of storytelling). It is worth noting that when Holmes returned from the grave, Doyle has completely added more ambiguous layers to his personality and characterization which is why the second volume is the most enjoyable for its gray shades of morality and scope of justice and punishment.
It has been ages since I read this collection and I plan to pick it up again soon. For instant gratification, the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett is the closest adaptation to the original source material. You may want to check that out once you've finished or while you are reading Doyle.
* Doyle revitalized detective fiction and wrote a character he did not like himself but whose very existence still captures the imagination and hearts of many readers across generations.