The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Orion Books: 2011) A Conan Doyle Estate sanctioned Sherlock Holmes novel. Watson tells the tale of one of Holmes’ most shocking adventures, where he pursues the truth behind mysterious House of Silk. It’s a chase that takes him to the brink of the noose, and leads to some of the most distasteful secrets of the rich and powerful.
I’m not sure how I feel about all this. Taking huge literary characters and reviving them through modern authors. I can see the plus. Why say goodbye forever to James Bond, to Sherlock Holmes, to Miss Marple. Sure, they are the products of their creators, but once they’re gone, surely the characters can live on? Surely they’re bigger than one mind? In the right hands, with the right skill, surely they can outlive the writers that first brought them to life?
There’s the obvious minus too. These classics are just that – classics. Picking them up again and dusting them off with second hand talents, well, it runs the risk of damaging them, right? Of taking a little of the glow off and cheapening them.
I don’t know which side of the argument I fall on. I’m indecisive like that. But I love a bit of Sherlock Holmes. So I couldn’t resist having a shot at this book.
Horowitz is certainly qualified. He created Midsomer Murders. He’s done a bunch of other stuff too, but that’s enough for me. And this isn’t the first big character he’s picked up. He’s penned a few TV episodes of Poirot, taking a bit of modern artistic licence en route.
So this guy knows what he’s doing. And it shows. The tone of the book, and a heap of the basic ingredients, could easily have come from the pen of Conan Doyle. He inhabits Dr Watson almost perfectly, strikes the right sentiment in every situation. It’s a true recreation, with Watson’s actions and thoughts and feelings ringing true throughout. And it’s not just Watson; Holmes is Holmes too. Enigmatic. Deep of feeling. High of ego.
So what of the plot? Well, it’s dramatic. It twists and turns and takes in an array of settings. It has a few familiar ingredients – injustice, mysterious evil, red herrings, intriguing sub-plots. It’s all there. But for me, it never really clicked.
Which is an absolutely terrible criticism. One of those “can’t put my finger on it” criticisms. Not constructive. Suspiciously baseless. But true, nonetheless.
The plot was full of heart racing ultimatum. Tantalising hints towards Armageddon-proportion disaster. But it didn’t work as effectively as when Conan Doyle did it. It was almost too busy. It got old after a while. Tiring. I grew impatient with cliff hanger after cliff hanger, mystery after mystery. The more so as much of the mystery could be seen through. The broad brush strokes of the truth could be guessed.
Just felt like Horowitz was over-reaching. The story steered for anti-climax from page one.
And that is how this book steered into a predictable brick wall. Horowitz succeeded in recreating the Conan Doyle voice. He succeeded in bringing the characters back to life faithfully. But he failed in his plotting. It didn’t feel genuine. It felt cheaper.
It might be my fault. If I read the exact same book believing it to be written by Conan Doyle, maybe I’d be more charitable. I was aware that Howoritz’s name was on the spine, and so maybe I looked too closely, was too quick to judge turn of phrase as cliché and twist of plot as contrivance.
My fault or not, doesn’t change the fact that I got bored at times with this. Which is sad, because this is Holmes.
Might have to pick up an original soon to reconnect with the real Holmes.
Next week, a bit of Waugh. I know you love that guy as much as I do, so I’m sure you’re excited.