Any “true” Sherlock Holmes fan is bound to approach this book with as much scepticism as excitement, what with Guy Ritchie making mishmash adventure films out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries and BBC time-travelling the world’s most famous consulting detective into an iPhone-wielding hottie! When for the first time in its 125-year history, the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate authorised a new Sherlock Holmes novel, even the staunchest champions of “classical Holmes” sat up in glee. And trepidation.
But worry not, Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk — The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Orion Publishing, Rs 499) is, simply put, superb! It is a rollicking read and even at the cost of being labelled a turncoat by the purists, one may say that it is better than the originals, in parts.
Horowitz begins the story when Holmes is dead (this time properly, not just down Reichenbach Falls) and Watson is old and feeble. But he must take up the pen once more, “to complete the Holmes cannon”. There was one case the good doctor has never written, because it was “too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print”. After penning this scandalous affair, Watson has the manuscript locked in a vault, with instructions that the packet must not be opened for a 100 years. Those 100 years, we can assume, are over, which is why you and I are reading about the adventures of The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk.
Once again, the game’s afoot.
It’s November 1890, a bitterly cold winter in London. Watson is back at 221B Baker Street since his wife is away. Everything else is the same — Holmes outwitting Watson with his sharp eye, the unannounced client with a curious case, the Baker Street Irregulars, Mrs Hudson’s disdain of the Irregulars...
The client is an art dealer from Wimbledon, Edmund Carstairs. He says he is being followed and threatened by a man in a flat cap, possibly after he got into the bad books of a gang in America. What starts off as a seemingly simple case, staid even, soon turns into a dangerous whirlpool, with bodies piling up, shady opium dens, angry whispers in the corridors of power and a murder charge on Holmes.
What we love
Horowitz knows his brief. He is supposed to write a Sherlock Holmes novel and so he does. He does not use this beloved character to launch his own style of mystery storytelling. He has gone through the entire gamut of material left behind by Conan Doyle with a fine-tooth comb but he doesn’t burden the reader with his research. The writing is crisp and lucid, and the novel a delightful page-turner. The two mysteries are woven together nicely and though we don’t really get the connection till the very end, we are acutely aware that the connection lies just beneath the surface.
And when Horowitz brings Professor James Moriarty into the picture (no, this is not a spoiler), we can’t help but smile at his fan-boy tactics! Ask yourself, would you have been able to resist the temptation?
Where we differ
Horowitz suffers from unexplained pangs of guilt on account of Inspector Lestrade, a man Conan Doyle didn’t even give a name to — only the initial G — and described as “a little sallow rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow”. Not Horowitz, who gives the inspector a name — George — and worse still, a personality. He even makes Watson apologise to Lestrade on two counts — for comparing him to rats and ferrets and for implying that he had no intelligence at all. As sweet as Watson may have turned in old age, the purist in us does not like Watson joining ranks with the ‘enemy’.
The other point of departure is the ending itself. While Horowitz takes the mystery to a very satisfying end and ties up numerous loose ends beautifully, we must point out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wouldn’t have written this ending. It is too real.
But herein lies Horowitz’s masterstroke. With that utterly possible and extremely real ending, Anthony Horowitz has left his distinctive stamp on a work that otherwise blends in beautifully with the original.
Who is Anthony Horowitz?
Born in 1955 in England, he’s a screenwriter and prolific author with over 50 books to his name. He currently lives in London.
A couple of months back, The Daily Telegraph dubbed Horowitz as “the man who has done more to get boys reading than any other contemporary author”.
Horowitz is widely known for his children and young adults titles, particularly the Alex Rider series. The popular series revolves around teenager Alex and his adventures as a British Secret Service recruit. There are nine novels in this series, with cases dealing with everything from human cloning and tennis match-fixing to the threat of nuclear warfare.
Another series by Horowitz, also aimed at a young readership, takes the supernatural route. The Power of Five comprises five fantasy-suspense novels, the last of which, Oblivion, is expected to come out in September.
Horowitz has adapted many of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries for screen and created and scripted hit TV series like Midsomer Murders, Collision and Foyle’s War.
In April 2011, Horowitz had said in an interview that he was writing the sequel to Steven Spielberg’s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.