Friday, 16 October 2015

'The House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz (2011)

Synopsis: The House of Silk is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel and was sanctioned by Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. The novel begins with a brief preface from Dr. John Watson, in which he explains that Sherlock Holmes is now dead and that The House of Silk is an account of an adventure that happened many years before when Holmes was still alive. However Watson has also left his family strict instructions for his manuscript to be stored in a bank vault for 100 years, as the story contains huge political and societal revelations that Watson doesn't believe the world is yet ready for. The book then flashes back to November 1890. London is in the grip of a merciless winter but Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are both enjoying some tea beside their cosy fire in Baker Street. The two of them are then suddenly interrupted by an agitated gentlemen turning up unannounced. The man is an art dealer called Edmund Carstairs and for the past several weeks he's been stalked by a scar-faced man with piercing eyes. Carstairs believes that this man is an Irish-American gangster who has followed him all the way from Boston. Intrigued, Holmes decides to investigate this and is assisted by Watson and the Baker Street Irregulars. It's then that Holmes is drawn into a second mystery surrounding the House of Silk...


Regular readers of this blog should already know that I've read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon (the four novels and fifty-six short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle) and have seen several different Holmesian adaptations. My favourite adaptation is the BBC's Sherlock which is closely followed by Disney's The Great Mouse Detective. This non-canonical work by Anthony Horowitz might not be perfect or on a par with those adaptations but it's still a brilliant effort.

I was a pretty big fan of Horowitz's Alex Rider series when I was in my early teens but I still felt a fair amount of scepticism as to whether this book of his would be able to do Arthur Conan Doyle's characters any real justice. But it did! Horowitz imitates John Watson's narrative voice astonishingly well and nails Holmes and Watson's characters! If someone were to give me two random samples of Arthur Conan Doyle and Horowitz's writing and then ask me to say which author wrote what I honestly think I'd find it hard to tell the difference. Another thing that I loved about this book were all of its references to the canon. Previous adventures are referred to and there's an American gangster element to the story. Conan Doyle seemed to be fascinated with the new world so this is very much in keeping with the canon. Horowitz even has some of the Americans talking in Conan Doyle-esque slang! :D Secondary characters from the canon make appearances in this book as well. Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Mycroft Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars all show up in this story and even Mary Morstan makes a brief appearance. There are a couple of other familiar faces in this story as well but I won't reveal who they are because I don't want to spoil everything.

I haven't even talked about the plot of this book yet. Well, that was extremely impressive too. The story doesn't have too much action but is still very thrilling, suspenseful and well-paced. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story as well. Yes, there were some things that I saw coming but then there were also some things that I didn't manage to predict. The book also features two seemingly-unconnected cases and Horowitz does a brilliant job in bringing the two of them together and then in tying them up.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to everyone. Although I wouldn't say that a knowledge of the canon is absolutely essential I really can't imagine a newcomer to the Sherlock Holmes stories being able to appreciate it as much as a die-hard fan. Then there's the House of Silk itself because in the end it turns out that its members were doing something very, very evil. To give Horowitz some credit he does handle the subject matter with sensitivity. He doesn't dwell on it or go into any great detail about it (if he had then that would have significantly lowered my opinion of the book). And Horowitz did kind of need to come up with a horrible thing for the members to be doing in order for Watson's decision to shelve the story for so long make any sense. But it's still something that leaves me unable to recommend the book to younger readers.

The House of Silk is a brilliant effort and I was hugely impressed with it. Horowitz captures Watson's voice, the characters and the atmosphere of Victorian London. The plot is thrilling and there are lovely references to the canon. There's even a very interesting essay from Horowitz at the end where he talks about how he came to write his book and the 10 rules he set himself in order to capture the original stories' authenticity. I'll definitely be reading Horowitz's follow-up book Moriarty at some point.

Oh and just before I wrap this up I thought I'd provide a link because I'm sure it will be of interest to my readers: Mark Gatiss is a big fan of this book and reviewed it very favourably in a magazine which you can read here.

Rating: 5/5

9 comments:

Sarah said...

So glad you reviewed this! I read it a few years ago and absolutely loved it.

Manette said...

A friend of mine recommended this to me, I'll get to it as soon as I finish with the ACD canon (which is taking me way too long). I'll gladly read anything with Anthony Horowitz's name on it, I haven't read any of his novels yet but he's a wonderful screenwriter!

Hannah said...

Sarah - Aw! :) I loved this book too and I've bumped my rating of this book to a full 5/5 now.

Manette - I enjoyed this book more than any of the Sherlock Holmes novels with the exception of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles!' Horowitz did an amazing job with it.

I finally finished off the canon at the beginning of this month. The later stories in the canon definitely aren't as good as the early ones but you'll still find a few gems - 'The Devil's Foot' is awesome!



Hamlette said...

I definitely wasn't as enthusiastic as you about this book, but mostly the subject matter left a bad taste in my mouth -- I think the characterization was spectacular, and I do want to try Moriarty eventually.

Hannah said...

Hamlette - Yes, this book's subject matter is something that I usually try hard to avoid. But for me Horowitz managed to present the subject matter with a lot of restraint and in a way that I was able to handle. It wasn't really dwelt on in any great detail and it helped massively that the book was told from Watson's POV. But at the same time I can totally understand why other readers like yourself would react to it differently.

Hamlette said...

Yes, I think he wrote with admirable restraint, but... I have an 8-year-old son. It hit a little too scarily close to home, perhaps.

Hannah said...

Mmm... I've found myself reluctant to read books that deal with dementia or Alzheimers now since my grandmother was diagnosed with the disease which is why I didn't want to see 'Mr Holmes'. I'm sure there are plenty of books and films that deal with the subject matter well but it's just not something I'd care to find in my fiction right now.

Hamlette said...

Understandable! I found the book "Mr. Holmes" is based on very difficult for the same reason -- my grandma had Alzheimer's.

Hannah said...

Alzheimer's is the cruellest disease I've ever encountered - I'm sorry that your grandmother had it :(