The New Sherlock Holmes

December 16, 2011

Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk, London: Orion Books, 2011

Reviewed by Michael Todd

Anthony Horowitz is a very successful novelist and screenwriter. He has written for television series including Foyle’s War, which starred Michael Kitchen as Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, a police officer based at Brighton England during WWII; Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet, set in the period between WWI and WWII; and Midsomer Murders with John Nettles as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, a policeman investigating crime in a part of England that makes Somalia look peaceful judging by the endless murders committed in the hedge lined lane ways, bucolic villages, and stately homes.

Anthony Horowitz has also written a best selling Alex Rider children’s series about which I know absolutely nothing.

Amongst the original short stories and novels about Holmes, Conan Doyle made a number of references to cases that are considered too controversial to have been published when they were solved by Holmes, with oblique references to European royalty etc (but no Kardashians). Anthony Horowtiz has taken the title of one of these cases and written his own Holmes novel in the style of Conan Doyle.

While I was aware of the number of screen versions of Conan Doyle’s work I hadn’t appreciated how many authors have attempted to recreate/develop Holmes’ and Watson’s investigations. In Leslie Klinger’s invaluable 3 Vol Annotated Sherlock Holmes (W.W Norton & Co) Mr Klinger refers to thousands of stories and of course films and TV series using the Holmes and Watson characters. All of them no doubt raising the grumpy ire of the hordes of Baker Street Irregulars over deviations from the Canon. One can imagine the splenetic grumbling over the current BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman where the stories have been brought into the current world (with great success as far as I’m concerned).

As an aside to those who enjoy the Holmes stories, I do recommend Leslie Klinger’s annotated volumes. There is an excellent summary of the history of Holmes in print and film plus the annotations are not only detailed (eg in Vol 1, p. 230, a Mr Roger T Clapp is able to state that only 1 correct train time is given in the entire canon! Can you imagine how many train timetables were consulted?) but also cover some of the theories that Irregulars and Critics have come up with over the years. I suspect that Mr Klinger may have included some of the stranger annotations purely for their entertainment value (eg, Conan Doyle is the fictional creation of a real Sherlock Holmes).

The question is whether the diehard obsessive Irregulars will be sending Anthony Horowitx off to a re-education camp, or will just pretend that his book doesn’t exist.

Horowitz has certainly captured the style of Conan Doyle: carriages rushing through fog obscured London streets, and American crime gangs (a common feature in the Holmes cases). Brother Mycroft in his club, with the meeting between the brothers producing a comic highlight. Inspector Lestrade (treated with a bit more respect than in the Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce films; as is the role of Watson for that matter). The arrival of a person seeking help at 221B Baker St with Holmes’ forensic examination of the person and the problem to the bewilderment of, in this case, an art dealer named Edmund Carstairs.

The story revolves around the threat of revenge, brutal murders and the possibility of conspiracy at the highest levels of English society. The case brings in elements of a train robbery and murder in America, possible poisoning in England and the disappearance of children from the poorer parts of London. As is to be expected in a Holmes case the characters come from all levels of society and those characters are as skilfully drawn by Anthony Horowitz as in the original Conan Doyle stories. Where the reader will note a difference is that in writing the story Anthony Horowitz is able to bring in elements that Conan Doyle couldn’t or wouldn’t refer to when writing the original stories (commencing in 1891 and ending in 1927) but I won’t say anymore as that goes directly to the plot of The House of Silk.

What has also been added is regular references to earlier cases, leaving it to the reader to identify which cases are being referred to and a small walk on role for Professor Moriarty playing, for once, a surprisingly positive role, or at least as positive as the master criminal can get.

If I do have a quibble about the novel it is that at times there is a slight tendency to produce lists of Victoriana: if art is mentioned you’ll get a list of Victorian or Impressionist painters which doesn’t necessarily advance the plot.

I certainly hope that Anthony Horowitz continues to produce these novels as they are a very enjoyable continuation of the Holmes Canon (my vote is for the case of “The Giant Rat of Sumatra”).

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One Response to “The New Sherlock Holmes”

  1. Nice review of the book.

    Anthony Horowitz is a great writer. I too liked ‘The House of Silk’.

    Check out my review .

    Cheers!

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