This is a book I would have never ever bought myself simply because I am cynic and did not really believe someone could pull off a Sherlock spinoff with same panache. I am only happy to admit that I was proven wrong.
Just under first 20 pages, I could sense Anthony Horowitz has stepped fairly well into Watson’s shoes. It begins, as did all Doyle stories, with Holmes making his remarks and surprising people with his deductions.
The House of Silk is an investigation conducted by Holmes that was believed to be too horrific in nature to be revealed at the time. Therefore, Watson records this investigation in the twilight years of his life, after the death of Sherlock Holmes, with instruction that it should be published a century after his death.
The case begins when the client walks into the now familiar house at 221B, Baker Street. The client is Edmund Carstairs, an art gallery co-owner. He has had a brief brush with a gang in past which once destroyed his paintings. He believes he is now being followed by the one of the gang members for vendetta. Mr. Holmes is intrigued but relaxed. Events take an unpredictable course when one of the street urchins – part of Wiggin’s army – assisting him is brutally murdered. Holmes, regretful for unknowingly putting an innocent urchin in the harm’s way, is determined to bring the killer to justice. This leads both Holmes and Watson on a journey where there are several traps, guns and pitfalls. Meanwhile, Edmund Carstairs’ family seems to be disintegrating. Holmes must not only find the killer but save his reputation by stopping what is assailing the Carstairs, who like everybody else seem to be losing their faith in him.
Like Hound of Baskervillies, there comes a part in the story where Watson is at the helm of events with Holmes in trouble. Watson works on his own for a while with the help he can find from his two most likely allies -Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft. Lestrade, who was previously a mere caricaturised policeman is depicted more kindly in Watson’s memoir. Amusingly, Watson’s memoir takes a mildly apologetic tone for chronicling Lestrade as ‘rat-faced’ and ‘ferret-faced’. On the other hand, Mycroft, with his invisible power inside the government corridors (and Diogenes Club) is as eccentric as ever. Watson is stumped when in his darkest hour, Mycroft bids him goodbye saying, Next time please call on me only when it is urgent situation.
Watson himself is very well done character in this book. He almost always flushes with pride to be known as a ‘good chronicler of Holmes’ adventures’. He still seeks to find expression of love, concern and pride from his dearest friend, Holmes. But unlike Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, this was never the focal point in Doyle’s story. It was always subtly inherent – never dwelt upon in detail and yet there. Horowitz does a Guy Ritchie in my opinion when Watson confessed that with his preoccupation with Holmes during this case, he fails to recognise his wife Mary may have had typhoid, which is what claims her life later. Also, at one point in the book a tired and visibly sick Mary beseeches Watson to go to Holmes’ aid with these words, ‘…he needs you as he has always needed you. You cannot refuse.’ I, a true blue Doyle fan, consider this a flaw in the book. But that needs a separate post.
The author’s descriptions of Victorian London and its people are very evocative and reminiscent of Doyle’s stories. One description goes as this: He was formally dressed in a dark tail coat, wing collar and white bow tie with a black cloak around his shoulders, waistcoat, gloves and patent leather shoes. Behold, there appears a man in my imagination dressed like that. (Though I had to goggle ‘wing collar’ to get the exact look. )
Despite strong characterisations and writing, it seemed Horowitz felt very compelled to illustrate that he is very well-versed with Doyle’s works. There are so many cross-references to Holmes’ other cases – Miss Violet Hunter, The Red-Headed League, Riechenbach Falls and Prof. Moriarty himself. Some of these as Dr Trevelyan have been well-used in plot, but, it was the appearance of Prof. Moriarty that I felt was bit forced.
Despite this, I believe ‘House of Silk’ is worthy addition to Holmes’ collection. Though it will never be my favourite Holmes story, it will be certainly one of the most memorable.
P.S: I must thank Debs for generously passing this book my way, or am sure I would missed the pleasure of reading and finding more about the realm of Holmes.