The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz
I’m a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes cannon. When I’m reading a novel, I tend to prefer a mystery, and Sherlock’s surprising skills of observation, logic, and deduction have always enthralled me. Then, Laurie R. King began a series that fleshed out Holmes’ character with a dry, acerbic wit and haughty intellect and threw in a female apprentice that could match him line for line and deduction for deduction. I was in fan girl heaven.
So, when last year NPR Books had an article on Sherlockian mysteries of note, and Horowitz’s new book, The House of Silk, was on the top of the list, I was quick to add it to my own.
Touted as the first Holmes novel that was authorized by Conan Doyle’s estate, I should have made more note of the line that quickly followed: “Interesting, but not in itself an assurance of worth.”
I picked up The House of Silk for train-time reading, and was struck immediately by several things. Although a contemporary novel, Horowitz seemed to be writing in Conan Doyle’s style (or an attempt of it). I haven’t read anything else by the author, so can’t say if he always writes this way. But it was definitely a throw-back to the original canon, rather than an update on the character. Unfortunately, it felt off. There was something about the way Horowitz wrote Holmes’ explanations of his “miraculous” deductions that felt obvious, and a little predictable.
Second, apparently Watson has gotten sappy over the years. After the 5th declaration of Holmes’ awesomeness compared to his own feebleness, Holmes’ brilliance compared to everyone else in the world, Watson started to get on my nerves. I couldn’t tell if he was suffering from a major inferiority complex or was obsessively in love with the man. Less buddy story, more annoying neighborhood kid.
Third, Watson sets up the story by saying he wrote this manuscript to be published well after his death because the circumstances were so shocking, so scandalous, that they could not come to light without tearing apart the very fabric of society. That’s a LOT of hype to live up to, and I’m afraid I reached the denouement with a feeling of, oh, is that all? The House of Silk was grittier than the classic canon, but maybe I’m just desensitized to crime. I was expecting something of international consequence, here! Something that could’ve changed history.
And finally, although I appreciated the occasional reference back to the original cannon, was it just me or was the only book Horowitz could remember “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League?” Although Baskerville Hall got a reference (of course), the Red-Headed League was made mention of more than once. Maybe it was his favorite Holmes story? At any rate, the inclusions seemed contrived rather than natural. Especially after the first one.
All this to say, there were a lot of little things that annoyed me about this book. Even little mistakes that I can’t really discuss without giving plot elements away.
But. Despite all of that, it was well paced and by the time I reached the half way point of the book, I was interested enough to keep reading and find out the conclusion. Some of the big reveals I guessed early on, but there were a couple that surprised me.
All in all, it was a quick and entertaining read if you don’t mind the voice of the author (via Watson). That was the hardest part not to roll my eyes at. But I have to admit, this one won’t be added to my Holmes’ collection anytime soon.
K’s rating of The House of Silk: 5/10 mangoes