Book Review: The House of Silk

The game is afoot…

Thus begins the new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, written by acclaimed English writer Anthony Horowitz. While there have been a good amount of non-Doylean adventures vying for inclusion in the famous Canon of Sherlock Holmes (comprising the fifty six short stories and four novels), Horowitz's HoS has become the first addition to the Holmesian affairs with the official endorsement from the Conan Doyle Estate. It's not just a mere sequel, but a gripping adventure that transports you back to the Victorian era.

The book begins with a brief recounting of events by Dr. Watson. Any one versed in the Canon will be familiar as to how Dr. Watson began to stay with Mr. Holmes at the 221B Baker Street. With this crisp prologue in place, Horowitz places the context of the main story. Sherlock Holmes is dead. After two marriages, three children, seven grandchildren and a successful career in medicine, John Watson, Mr. Holmes' chronicler and trusted friend, now aged and alone, decides to narrate one of their early adventures together, a perilous adventure so grotesque and shocking (to be accepted in his own lifetime) that his written account was kept locked in his solicitors' vaults for hundred years (thus accounting for the huge time gap).

It's the year 1890. Watson is back at the Holmes' lodgings after having sent his wife to Camberwell to look after Mrs. Cecil Forrester's (a prominent character in The Sign of Four) ailing son, Richard. As soon as they settle, a visitor, Edmund Carstairs, who is an art dealer by profession, narrates a very singular story of a man in a flat cap. When Holmes and Watson begin to investigate, the story takes intriguing and unpredictable turns; with them getting drawn into another bigger mystery, The House of Silk (hence the title). The fact that they became inextricably tangled up, the one with the other, meant that they could not be separated, says Watson at the very beginning of this narrative (referring to the two cases).

Staying faithful to the original is indeed a challenging job. Hence I must admit, I was a little sceptical to pick up this book. A recent case in example is Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche, the latest James Bond novel that released earlier this year. With such classic characters (be it James Bond or Sherlock Holmes), any minor distortions to their personality draws a huge response from the readers, both positive and negative.

Readers who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories will undoubtedly revel in the sense of familiarity that Horowitz creates in The House of Silk— Holmes, as always, knows far more than he lets on, but for the sake of the narrative, the reader must follow Watson's point of view.
- The Times of India (Jan 27, 2012)

Horowitz however ably captures the Doylean setting just right and his Watson gets more leeway with his narrative. By not just restricting to chronicling the events, Watson adds his own human (or preachy?) touch to the proceedings, at the same time not going an inch overboard. Moreover characters like Inspector Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson get their due through his interesting afterthoughts even if they don't exactly aid the story in any way. Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty, in the meanwhile, gets to show an unusual side of himself in a surprising part.

The biggest factor that works, however, is the mystery element which is kept intact till the very last moment. Holmes, as astute as ever, continues to astound with his superior deduction skills, especially in the climactic portions. If the author's name were no longer to be mentioned in the book, I would have very well mistaken House of Silk to be a work of Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Aside from a few linguistic anachronisms and Watson's unabashed glorification of Holmes Anthony Horowitz spins a cleverly written perfect mystery. Welcome back, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!