I am in no means the first person to note that there seems to be a bit of an ongoing craze at resurrecting past, for want of a better word, franchises under new authors, there was Hitchhikers, James Bond (twice – with the Young Bond books by Charlie Higson which I thoroughly enjoyed and then Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver which I thought was ok but so – so at the same time) and now a resurrection of Sherlock Holmes, also twice, with the Young Sherlock Holmes books by Andrew Lane which I thought were even more so – so than Carte Blanche and now The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, which is a grown up Holmes but I think would appeal to the YA market far more than the Young Holmes series, but I am getting ahead of myself. Getting back to the subject of the resurrection of book series under different authors I think that sometimes it’s ok and sometimes it isn’t. If you take the (now not so) new Hitchhikers for example, written by Eoin Colfer, that does not feel as right as say a new Bond or a new Holmes because whereas with James Bond and Sherlock Holmes we’ve been flooded for years with various writers takes on the subject, Hitchhikers was very much Douglas Adams’, considering the radio and TV versions were his to. So all this is my way of saying I have no objection to a new Holmes story. I particularly appreciated how Horowitz handled, at the beginning of the book, why there was a new book, as it starts with a retired Watson in a nursing home, writing one last story that was too scandalous to write at the time and so he says is even too scandalous to publish after he has finished writing (which in the book is sometime during the First World War), so he writes the manuscript and leaves it to his family with the instructions that it is not to be read for 100 years, hence it’s supposed publication now, which I thought was a neat way of getting round why there was another Holmes book.
Horowitz captures Watson’s voice well (aided by me listening to this as an audiobook, which was read extremely well by Derek Jacobi) and he equally captures turn of the century London just as well, with it’s atmospheric pea soupers and all. Horowitz reminds me of an important lesson in writing in that when describing a scene use all your senses, so as Watson entered each new scene you would get the sounds and smells as well as the sights, which helped immensely in getting me totally engrossed.
The plot is interesting, involving American bank robbers and a mysterious organisation, the aforementioned House of Silk. All the regular aspects of Holmes are there, his violin, his depression, his temptation for drugs and there’s the Baker Street Irregulars to. I think considering that this book has been written by such a popular children’s author, hopefully The House of Silk will act as a great introduction to YA readers who haven’t read Arthur Conan Doyle yet. Horowitz leaves plenty of tempting hints about Holmes other adventures in the book and the involvement of child characters would make it a good read for anyone 11+, I wouldn’t recommend it for below that though as there is some violence and the discovery of what The House of Silk actually is, isn’t pleasant.
I haven’t read any Conan Doyle for quite some time (I read most of the Sherlock stories when I myself was a teenager), so I’m not sure if the one difference I thought I detected in the book is actually a difference at all, as it may have gone over my head a bit when I read them. There is quite a strong streak of rage against injustice, particularly injustice towards children in the book, with several monologues about how could children fall through the gaps in society in the way they had in the book (and in a way, sort of similar to how children can fall through the gaps in society today). Like I say, I can’t remember the same (just) moralising in Conan Doyle, have I just forgotten it?
All in all I hope Horowitz writes some more Holmes books, the book leaves with the retired Watson sad that he has finished writing because he enjoyed transporting himself back in time to his old friend, here’s hoping Horowitz will think of a few more stories that were ‘too scandalous to tell at the time’.
- Digested Read: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (guardian.co.uk)
- Anthony Horowitz resurrects Sherlock Holmes (bbc.co.uk)
- The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – review (guardian.co.uk)