Saturday, April 12, 2014

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

(I'm traveling on a trip to hunt for fossils so I didn't have time to work up something new. My dad and I were recently talking about this book so I thought I'd post a review I wrote back in 2011.)

If I had to sum up my thoughts and feelings about Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, it would be this: if you close your eyes and just listen to the audio book, you would think you were listening to a story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. That, and a little A. A. Milne thrown in for good measure.

The spirit of Doyle is alive and well in this new Holmes novel, as well it should. In the decades since Doyle died, this is the first officially commissioned and recognized by the late author’s estate. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that The House of Silk is now the 61st story in the canon.

And with whom did the descendants entrust Holmes and Watson? The man behind the Alex Rider young adult series and one of my all-time favorite TV series, “Foyle’s War,” was an excellent choice to write this book. Horowitz is a professed amateur Sherlockian himself, and his prose stylings are just as if John Watson himself wrote the novel.

When tasked with the job of writing this book, I imagine one of Horowitz’s favorite jobs was to make The List. What list is that you say? This would be the list of all the things that he would want to have in a Sherlock Holmes story. Think about: 56 short stories and four novels from which to draw all your favorite characters, scenes, and events to put into your own book with your own spin. Sherlockian’s everywhere will smile and nod as they see Horowitz’s grace notes as he writes this compelling novel. Lestrade is here, as are the Baker Street Irregulars, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, other little nuggets for you to find, and a certain unnamed character who, in fact, needs no name for the reader to know exactly who his is. In fact, it’s almost like Sherlock Holmes’s Greatest Hits.

Edmund Carstairs calls upon Holmes and Watson with a typical story: a man in a flat cap is stalking Mr. Carstairs, an art dealer. This flat cap chap is, presumably, a member of an Irish gang out to take revenge on Carstairs for a botched train robbery. For the next few chapters, Horowitz basically delivers a nice Holmes novella. It is only at the end of this little sub-section where things take a more drastic and sinister turn. A brutal murder—intended as a message to any who might tread on this case—move this case from mere dread to one of a more dire nature. It is here where the modern storyteller Horowitz turns up the heat on our Victorian heroes and leads them to place that Doyle would never have gone.

The pacing is good through the novel. An avid Sherlockian myself, I was never bored and often raced back to my iPod to listen to the next chapter. By the way, if you are an audio fan, the book is narrated by none other than Derek Jacobi, and I highly recommend this recording. The events had a modern way of piling on our heroes, so much so that, even though you knew certain things would happen, you just didn’t know how.

Horowitz just plain had fun writing this story. If you know the original canon well, you will note the nice little echoes and homages thrown in. For example, at one point, Watson is conveyed by carriage to a secret place. The windows of the carriage are draped—almost exactly like another carriage ride in “The Greek Interpreter” short story by Doyle—so as to prevent Watson from knowing where he’s going. Another point has Watson hunting down a clue and ends up asking a rather out-of-left field question to another person. When asked how the question pertains to the case, Watson, tongue firmly in cheek, gets to reply “I have my methods.”

If you know your other Holmes stories written by a myriad of other authors, you know all the places Holmes has traveled and the people he’s met. One rather famous example are the stories written by Laurie King, which has the old detective still alive and well during World War I. This story, now being officially canon, jettisons those other stories as non-canon. It’s as if George Lucas decided to make new Star Wars movies set after Return of the Jedi. As soon as that celluloid hits the screen, all the Extended Universe stories are moot. Thus, when Watson—ostensibly writing during 1911—comments that Holmes has already died, it didn’t jive with the other stories’ timelines. I kept having to adjust.

Now, you may be wondering why I namedropped A. A. Milne at the first of this review. It’s simple: Milne and Horowitz nailed the melancholic wistfulness of days past. Remember the ending of the original Winnie the Pooh movie and the part where Christopher Robin and Pooh are talking. Christopher knows that he has to go off to school and learn things. He also knows that everything is going to change and that he’ll never again be that carefree little boy. He longs for his past and promises Pooh to always be there for him. That’s how Watson is portrayed in this novel. Watson aches for his friendship with Holmes and the good doctor clearly knows his days are numbered. More than once, he comments that, by his writing of this last case, he has been in the presence of his good friend again. It’s a remarkable book that can both excite the senses and, yet, bring on the longing to such an extent that one might get that lump in your throat. That’s what this book did for me. I absolutely loved this book and hope Horowitz gets the invitation to write another. If not, the next author has some tall shoes to fill.

1 comment:

Kristopher said...

It was just announced last week that Horowitz is writing another Holmes story, but this one is titled Moriarty - and Holmes will be a side character (don't quote me on that last part, but I think that is what I read).