The House of Silk

house of silkIf there’s one thing more flourishing than Sherlock Holmes himself (may his shadow never grow bulkier), it’s Holmes pastiches, imitations, spin-offs, updates, and rip-offs. Some of them are wonderful (Laurie King, I’m looking at you), and some are terrible: inauthentic, mean-spirited, sentimental. Some of them are just strange. (I don’t know why there hasn’t been a Holmes and Watson and Werewolves — too close to the Hound of the Baskervilles?) But people keep bringing him back, irresistible, the great man with his fierce grasp of logic and his powers of deduction — oh, and John Watson, too, his friend, companion, and the constructor of the Holmesian narrative.

This is what Anthony Horowitz has done in The House of Silk. The book opens with a preface: Watson reminding us of how he came to know Holmes, and telling us that he is about to recount two intertwined stories that were some of the most sensational of Holmes’s career — but he must put them in a vault for a hundred years.

It was impossible before — and I am not just referring to Holmes’s well-known aversion to publicity. No, the events which I am about to describe were simply too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print. They still are. It is no exaggeration to suggest that they would tear apart the entire fabric of society and, particularly at a time of war, this is something I cannot risk.

Then Watson brings us back to 1890. London is freezing and foggy. Holmes and Watson are sitting by their fire at 221B Baker Street when a desperate young art dealer, Edmund Carstairs, comes to ask for their help. He was involved in the loss of four paintings during a train robbery by an Irish gang in America. One of the leaders of the gang was killed by the police, and his twin brother, a menacing man in a flat cap, is stalking Carstairs for revenge. This turns out to be only the beginning, however: the adventure of the Man in the Flat Cap is really just the frame for a darker, more complex story that costs Holmes his freedom and nearly his life.

This was a fast-paced Holmes story with a great narrative voice. Horowitz has managed to include most of the Holmes characters we all know and enjoy, and not in a perfunctory cameo, but allowing us to learn more about them: Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, the Baker Street Irregulars, and so on. There are no wry modernizations here: Holmes and Watson are who they always were. The story is complicated but not convoluted, and it has enough thrills to satisfy any reader. And Watson is the perfect companion: more limited than Holmes, but ready to push himself to those limits out of loyalty. I will say that I solved the mystery about a third of the way through the book, which made me lose a fraction of respect for Horowitz’s Holmes (I normally never solve mysteries before the end), but otherwise it was pitch-perfect and a thoroughly enjoyable read — I don’t read mysteries for the solution, anyway; I read them to accompany the detective through the book, and in The House of Silk that was well worth the trip.

The ending is dark, even if it achieves the mystery’s goal of order and justice. Watson was right about not publishing it sooner. But now that it’s here, this is a satisfying addition to the casebook.

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19 Responses to The House of Silk

  1. WESTOWN LIFE says:

    I was happily surprised by this book too, very enjoyable.

    • Jenny says:

      It did surprise me, but only a little, because I got the recommendation from Litlove, and she always has good recommendations.

  2. heavenali says:

    I loved this one too – and I too love the Mary Russel series – I recently read number 8 Locked rooms, and have numbers 9 and 10 tbr – I do love Holmes!!

    • Jenny says:

      Those are my favorite contemporary mystery series by a long way! I hope Laurie King keeps writing them.

  3. I’m yet to read any of the Sherlock Holmes novels, though I’ve watched the movies.

  4. Okay, but is the solution SO shocking that it would tear apart the fabric of our society? Because The Da Vinci Code made similar claims, and I just did not feel they were merited.

    • Jenny says:

      Well… I do not think it would tear apart the fabric of our society today. But it might actually have torn apart a pretty good chunk of the fabric of it in 1890, especially if the press had gotten hold of it and couldn’t be muzzled (unlikely.) So… maybe? Quite shocking even today, though.

      Incidentally, I love your new site. And wish I had been in on the choosing of new Jenny names — I would rather be Gin Jenny than Proper Jenny; I sound like a prefect!

  5. Lisa says:

    I love Laurie King’s Holmes nearly as much as the canonical one, but I haven’t tried any of the others (and not just because they won’t have Mary Russell). I think I’ll add this one to the list though. Anthony Horowitz has my undying respect & admiration for his creation of Foyle’s War.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha! It was actually a little disconcerting to start reading this novel and to realize that Russell wasn’t part of it. I am so immersed in that world, it took a bit of getting used to. But it was still worth reading, and enjoyable, even without her.

  6. Melinda says:

    Surely sounds like an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Jenny says:

      It was, though I normally stay away from pastiches. But I knew I’d enjoy this one because of Litlove’s recommendation!

  7. Alex says:

    I love Horowitz’s children’s literature but have avoided this, perhaps because I’m not really a Holmes fan as such. However, I keep seeing such excellent reviews for it and I do know what a superb writer he is, so I may have to give in and add this to the Summer Reading list.

    • Jenny says:

      It’s improved by being a Holmes fan, because you catch on to references and you know a lot of the characters. But it’s not necessary; it could really be just a well-written historical thriller. It was nicely done, I think.

  8. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) says:

    I can’t keep Mary Russell out of my Holmesian (?) mental world now! She seems so natural. So this quite appeals to me as it looks back earlier.

    • Jenny says:

      Do you know, I think you’ve put your finger on the reason I liked it so well! I couldn’t have enjoyed it so much if it had been after 1914. (I used to belong to a forum for discussing the Russell books and the tagline at the top of the forum was, “After 1914, Holmes is ours.”)

  9. litlove says:

    I am SO glad you enjoyed this. It was the voice that swung it for me – it’s so uncannily good; just like the original Watson only a little bit better (if it’s not heresy to say that!).

    • Jenny says:

      I definitely don’t think it’s heresy! I thought the voice was excellent, with only perhaps one or two notes that didn’t seem quite right. The main problem I had was that I solved the mystery, and I thought if I had solved it, so would Holmes have. But that’s such a minor issue really.

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