I get a strange feeling when reading Sherlock Holmes novels. The shock value or exoticism of the crimes is so tame by today's high standards, the attitudes of the main protagonists so irritatingly Victorian, and the language used so old-fashioned and stiff (for the most part) that I find myself wondering whether the stories aren't just a bit pointless today, except as novels to be studied for their prominent role in the history of crime fiction and influence on forensic investigation (though my own meagre research hasn't shown any confirmed influence on forensics). To me, the mental challenge of trying to solve the mysteries is made almost infinitely harder by my unfamiliarity with Victorian Britain (admittedly, my own shortcoming) and I suspect the solutions are made excessively abstruse so Holmes' brilliance can be played up to maximum effect. A real-life academic once estimated Holmes' IQ to be 190, so I can feel a little vindicated. Furthermore, Conan Doyle assumes such a familiarity with London on the reader's part that the (beautiful and atmospheric) extended descriptions are saved only for the more unusual locations, such as Dartmoor and Baskerville Hall in this story. There is also a sort of blankness to the characters, with very little attention paid to their faces, clothes, and general appearance, and they show a disappointing lack of psychological credibility.
The world of the Sherlock Holmes novels is incredibly dated technologically and socially, seeming even much more so in 2012 than it would have done twenty-five years ago. This shouldn't matter, because Conan Doyle could hardly have helped when he was born, but somehow it does. Crime and policing has moved on, and we now have a wealth of superb detective fiction, TV series and films, what with the "Nordic noir" renaissance, and the BBC series Silent Witness and Waking the Dead. The dated feel would matter less if Conan Doyle had put his heart and soul into the novels, packing them full of profound insight about criminal psychology and the human condition that could still teach modern readers something useful, but I don't think that that is the kind of writer he was. The stories are basically light fiction novels told with flair and wit, and with a truly original idea for the central character. As such I recommend them to serious detective fiction aficionados or those fascinated by Victorian Britain only. If you want to read Conan Doyle, try The Lost World, in my opinion a much better adventure than any of the Holmes stories I've read and one of my favourite books of all time.