The House of Silk
"It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks.
Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious 'House of Silk' . . ."
Once an author dies, any continuation of their work is always going to be controversial. On one hand, there’s the audience to consider, those fans that will always want more, that will never be satisfied, that crave new adventures for their favourite characters. But then there’s the author themselves, whose life and work are being carried on without their permission, perhaps to areas they might not have wished to go.
It’s also a tricky descision to make for the writer of the new material. Do you attempt to mimic the style of the original work or strike out in another direction? Do you keep the story in line with the other works in the series or do you take them further than the original author would have dared? Death Comes to Pemberley or Pride and Predjudice and Zombies? There are pros and cons to both sides and it can be a fine line to walk to get it right.
Thankfully, in my opinion at least, Horowitz does get it right in The House of Silk, his attempt at gifting a new adventure to legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.
The House of Silk is a “lost chapter” in Sherlock Holmes’ career; a case which his assistant and biographer Dr Watson felt could damage the very fabric of society with what it reveals. In the introduction, Watson says he’ll write the story on the condition that it be locked away and not read for a hundred years, hence we’re only able to read it now.
As for the story itself, it’s the usual stuff you’d expect of Holmes. He and Watson are tasked with tracking down a mysterious figure that has been hounding an art dealer. When they do so however, it leads to a series of murders and the uncovering of a horrifying conspiracy, the mysterious House of Silk.
The mystery is well placed and, while I did have an idea of where it was eventually heading, Horowitz manages to throw in enough red herrings and twists along the way to keep the reader guessing.
He writes Sherlock very well. I’ve not read any of Horowitz’s other works so I can’t comment on how different the style of this book is to his usual feel but he manages to capture Arthur Conan Doyle’s voice very well here. Holmes is as ever, loveably unlovable, brilliant, but cutting and cruel, and he manages to avoid the mistake many others have made in making Dr Watson a bumbling idiot. Here, Watson is a well rounded character, lacking intelligence on par with Holmes, but more than smart enough to figure out a lot of the case for himself.
As with many of Conan Doyle’s original work, the most enjoyable moments of the novel are the quiet ones. The conversations between Holmes and Watson where Holmes is able to read all manner of information from small details in Watson’s appearance and piece together a narrative. Here, these sections are written perfectly and are as entertaining as anything of the sort Conan Doyle wrote himself.
I also loved Horowitz’s attempts to canonise the story. Watson constantly refers back to more of Holmes’ adventures like The Greek Interpreter or The Red Headed League. These touches really help to place the novel within the pre-established universe and stop it from ever feeling like another unofficial cash-in novel.
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan. The House of Silk is the next best thing you’ll get to a new work by Arthur Conan Doyle himself. It’s an interesting, fun mystery that breathes new life into one of literatures greatest legends. It’s well worth a read.
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