"There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."
So Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. John Watson in A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first novel to introduce the famous characters. It was published 127 years ago today.
How should we celebrate the cob-pipe-smoking detective's debut? By taking advantage of the fact that, as of this November, all stories about Holmes prior to 1923 are officially in the public domain. The US Supreme Court refused to hear a copyright appeal by the Conan Doyle estate after a US Court struck down its wishes to maintain ownership over Holmes. As freely as one would rewrite Jane Austen's work, Conan Doyle's Holmes mysteries (save roughly eight) may be manipulated at will (are you getting my subtle hint, Quirk Books?)
You may be versed in the modern adaptations of Holmes—as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., Jonny Lee Miller, or Tumblr's #1 Boyfriend Bentobox Lumberjack—so you might know tales like The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Final Problem". But since I know you're ever curious (and maybe need new fuel for your fanfic), I've decided to gather five of Conan Doyle's lesser-known stories (with links!) that may, true to their form, spur the inner detective and London recluse in you.
"A Case of Identity"
Year Published: 1891
Premise: The fiancé of a wealthy woman disappears under ambiguous terms. Can the champion of Baker Street solve the case? (I mean, you know he solves it. However, do you think it's easy for him?)
Players: Miss Mary Sutherland, Mr. Hosmer Angel, James Windibank
Clues: An office in Leadenhall Street and a typewritten letter
Quote: "'If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on...it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.'"
"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"
Year Published: 1892
Premise: What's in the box? WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!
Players: Miss Susan Cushing, Inspector Lestrade, Sarah Cushing, Mary Cushing, Jim Browner
Clues: A dissection laboratory, a sailor's knot, and a (you guessed it) cardboard box
Quote: "A depleted bank account had caused me to postpone my holiday, and as to my companion, neither the country nor the sea presented the slightest attraction to him. He loved to lie in the very center of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime."
"The Greek Interpreter"
Year Published: 1893
Premise: This is the first story to introduce Holmes' older brother, Mycroft. A Greek interpreter is threatened for his services in a transaction of property.
Players: Mycroft Holmes, Mr. Melas, Paul Kratides, Sophy Kratides, Harold Latimer, Wilson Kemp
Clues: Japanese armor, a bludgeon, and, well, papers in Greek
Quote: "Holmes had slipped away, but he came back in a few minutes.
'I have a window open,' said he.
'It is a mercy that you are on the side of the force, and not against it, Mr. Holmes...'"
"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"
Year Published: 1903
Premise: A young lawyer is framed for the disappearance of a construction worker—or so he claims!
Players: Jonas Oldacre, John McFarlane, Inspector Lestrade
Clues: Burned lumber, unused bed, oak cane covered in blood
Quote: "'So, my dear Watson, there's my report of a failure. And yet—and yet—' he clenched his thin hands in a paroxysm of conviction—'I KNOW it's all wrong.'"
"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"
Year Published: 1911
Premise: If you didn't guess, a wealthy woman disappears, and Watson must go to Switzerland, Germany, and France to assess. Holmes gets to stay in London, and he still figures out more than the poor doctor.
Players: Lady Frances Carfax, Miss Dobney, The Schlessingers, Marie Devine, Philip Green, Henry Peters
Clues: Jewels, bank transactions, wedding presents, and ears
Quote: "To Holmes I wrote showing how rapidly and surely I had got down to the roots of the matter. In reply I had a telegram asking for a description of Dr. Shlessinger's left ear. Holmes's ideas of humour are strange and occasionally offensive..."
Were those enough to sate your Holmesian appetite? I hope not! There are tons more here thanks to ReadSherlock.com, in turn derived from Project Gutenberg, which has apparently known about Conan Doyle's copyrights long before they originally became a concern in 2013.
Alex Grover (@AlexPGrover) writes in New York. He earns money by renting out summer holmes.