The commercial success of the Sherlock Holmes stories can hardly be overstated. Sherlock Holmes had become so popular that in the first 100 years after his first appearance in A Study in Scarlet in 1887, the character had featured in more than 100 films, more than 700 radio dramas, and more than 2,000 stories and novels. During the 20th century, only Mickey Mouse rivaled Sherlock Holmes as the most recognizable fictional character in the world.

Conan Doyle’s creation made outsized contributions in the literary realm as well. Almost single-handedly, he inaugurated two massive changes in literature. First, he transformed the short story from a mildly successful exercise to a major literary form capable of sustaining both an enormous readership and a longstanding critical interest. Second, Conan Doyle perfected and popularized the detective story, which went on to become the most popular new genre of fiction in the 20th century. Earlier writers had published short stories and mysteries before, but all had failed to energize readers to the degree that Conan Doyle’s Holmes achieved. Readers also identified with Holmes’s real-world London and liked the fact that they had the opportunity to solve the mysteries along with the hero.

Read about late-Victorian London as the setting for the Sherlock Holmes stories.

One of the writers whose detective stories predate Conan Doyle’s is Edgar Allan Poe (1808-1849), and Conan Doyle’s debt to Poe should not be minimized. Poe is often credited with having created the modern detective tale. “The Gold Bug” (1843), “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842–1843), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844) are all, in a sense, precursors to Conan Doyle's detective stories.

Another writer whose works likely influenced Conan Doyle was the English novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). Collins’s The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868) are also often cited as having set many of the conventions that we have come to expect from mystery-solving and detective stories. Collins is also sometimes credited with laying out much of the format we have come to expect from the now ubiquitous police procedural genre, although strong aspects of that could be seen in some of Poe’s works such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”