Friday, January 13, 2012

‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz

13 January 2012

It’s been confusing, over the past couple of weeks, to be watching the excellent new series of ‘Sherlock’ by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss whilst I have also been reading ‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz – the first new Sherlock Holmes novel to be officially approved by the Conan Doyle estate. Both are lovingly reverential to the original Sherlock Holmes stories and knowingly playful with the genre. In ‘The House of Silk’ (I read the unabridged audio version, read by Derek Jacobi) an elderly Dr Watson, living in a nursing home many years after Holmes himself has passed away, recounts one last case which he was unable to tell at the time it happened – and will be consigned to his solicitors' vaults for 100 years. All the familiar Holmesian elements are present – 221B Baker Street, Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, the pipe, the violin, the Baker Street Irregulars etc. There’s a wonderful laugh-out-loud encounter between Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes where they exchange a rapid series of elementary deductions about what they have each been up to since they last met – like an intellectual tennis match. The narrative style is faithful to Conan Doyle and Watson’s voice is completely recognisable. Watson himself comments on his tendency to preoccupy himself with plot and laments his inability to comment on the social conditions of Victorian London in the way Gissing or Dickens had. He then attempts the occasional foray into Dickensian description but Horowitz’s main focus is also on the puzzle of the case (or cases). It’s hard to know whether to criticise the occasional clumsiness of the writing or to attribute this to an accurate reproduction of Conan Doyle’s narrator but ‘The House of Silk’ works better as a thriller than a literary period piece. It’s a marvellously complex mystery: being much longer than Conan Doyle’s original stories allows the novel to weave an extensive web of plotlines, while the relentless pace of the adventure drives the confused reader continually onward. The trick of a Sherlock Holmes story is to leave the reader always slightly ahead of Watson but slightly behind Holmes – and Horowitz achieved this admirably as far as this reader was concerned. The novel builds to a truly thrilling conclusion – I was completely hooked.



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