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The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz

July 17, 2012

I am always a bit wary of new authors revisiting established canons to add new stories. However, I’d heard good things about The House of Silk and I’ve always enjoyed Anthony Horowitz so I was willing to give this a try.

The House of Silk is a new Sherlock Holmes story, written by Anthony Horowitz, since Arthur Conan Doyle is, being dead, significantly indisposed to write further stories. It is narrated by an aged Dr Watson, reminiscing about his recently deceased friend Holmes. He relates an adventure that too shocking, too scandalous, to be published previously. This neatly serves two purposes. Firstly, it explains why it has not been told before and secondly, it allows Horowitz to drop hints and nods to all the adventures throughout Conan Doyle’s canon.

The story itself begins with Dr Watson moving back into 221B Baker Street while his wife Mary is away, tending to a sick former pupil. Shortly after, a well-to-do art dealer requests Holmes’ help, for he fears he is being stalked by an American-Irish criminal. After a theft at his manor house, they soon find their man, murdered in a Bermondsey hotel. The case is straightforward and everything appears to be wrapped up but a small coincidence sets Holmes on the trail of a much larger conspiracy, the mysterious House of Silk. This leads Holmes and Watson into a mire of kidnap, torture and murder, with both their lives and reputations on the line.

I cannot imagine the scale of the mammoth task of writing this book. Sherlock Holmes is a beloved character of our popular culture, especially with the recent interpretations by Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Junior. Dabbling with a nation’s hero would be considered sacrilege if done improperly. Secondly, Conan Doyle’s stories were quite idiosyncratic, not only in Sherlock’s brilliant logic, his ‘systematised common sense’ but also in Watson’s precise, sensible prose. However, Horowitz convincingly replicates both. At no point was I consciously aware that this book was anything less than genuine.

I mentioned earlier that writing retrospectively allowed Horowitz via Watson to drop in several nods to the Sherlock Holmes canon. This is done shamelessly albeit organically. Many times, character make passing reference to previous adventures and, writing years after the fact, Watson reflects on other cases as well, including Reichenbach Falls and the Hound of the Baskervilles. There is even an appearance by Moriarty but in my opinion, that was merely a cameo to give Watson something to do while he was separated from Holmes.

They say that a good climax should be unexpected but inevitable. The climax of The House of Silk achieves both of these. The following denouement, explained by Holmes as so simple and seemingly obvious was equally fulfilling. Some points and twists in the plot could be guessed if you thought about it and there were few (if any) incredible surprises. Like orang-utans, for example. Take that, Edgar Allan Poe!

The House of Silk was a jot to read and a fitting homage to Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Anthony Horowitz has successfully reproduced the prose of Watson and revived the singular wit of Sherlock Holmes.

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