Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz book cover
The House of Silk (2011) is the first Sherlock Holmes book to be officially endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate; Anthony Horowitz claiming to have written not a pastiche, but a new Sherlock Holmes novel. The House of Silk is truly two cases, the titular and The Case of the Man in the Flat Cap. The two cases are set in motion when a Bohemian art dealer visits Holmes in Baker Street, fearing for his life, and being stalked by a scar-faced man who lurks around every corner. Holmes and Watson are quickly drawn into a sprawling case of twists and turns and, what starts as the fallout from an art deal gone awry, quickly turns into something more sinister, with conspiracy and scandal threatening to “tear apart the very fabric of society”.

A big Sherlock Holmes fans himself, Horowitz recreates Conan Doyle's style effectively and has clearly spent a long time ensuring the novel is of the highest quality. He does, though, afford himself the opportunity to fine tune elements of the work for a modern audience. The novel finds a new and progressive attitude towards social conscience, particularly in reference to the Baker Street Irregulars, with sentiments more akin to Dickens than Conan Doyle, frequently expressed. This brings out a warmer, less arrogant side of Holmes. Indeed, Holmes as a whole appears a more balanced individual than the character drawn by Conan Doyle; here he lacks the single-minded harshness - the self-centred petulance - that created such a dichotomous and fascinating character originally. There is a mistrust of authorities and those with power too, and it is suggested that, rather than a few bad eggs, corruption is endemic and inextricably linked with power – a position which smacks of a more modern state of mind.

Horowitz captures the atmosphere of Victorian London and the voice of Watson wonderfully, without ever becoming clichéd or creating a caricature. There is the odd slip in the prose; an Americanism here and there, some modern phraseology, but nothing that one might grumble at. As for the story itself, although the novel is noticeably longer than any of Conan Doyle's four Holmes novels, the plot carries it along at a fair old pace and, whilst the middle of the book sags just a little, it is certainly well-paced by modern standards. There are, however, some indulgences when it comes to the characters included in the story with Moriarty and, to a lesser extent, Mycroft's appearances feeling a little unnecessary to the plot.

The two cases tie together pleasingly at the novel's conclusion and, although one strand is a little too predictable and the other a little too obtuse, the plot is well constructed and forms a delightful mystery. Horowitz has taken Holmes's world and subtly recreated it for a modern audience; the essence of the characters and the world they inhabit maintained, whilst a modern sensibility is allowed to seep, effortlessly, into the framework of the story. There are one or two inconsistencies that will irritate devout Holmes fans but, on the whole, The House of Silk is an excellent addition to the Holmes canon and, whilst never breaking new ground, provides a rollicking new adventure for fans to enjoy.

All the key elements of a Sherlock Holmes novel are here, and Horowitz capures Conan Doyle's style wonderfully well. I loved being transported back to Victorian London; smoke rising from the cobbled streets as horse-drawn carriages rumble by, to encounter once more the fierce deductive skills of the most famous detective of them all. One of the best modern attempts to add to the Holmes canon. 

Useful Links
Reviews of The House of Silk on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of The House of Silk on Amazon (US)


Scott Parker said...

Good to see you pointed out a few things I did not in my review. I echo your comments about Horowitz and the modern audiences. And, in light of actual current events (which I won't reveal but you know as will others if they read the book), it was a weird feeling when the truth of the House of Silk was revealed.

Zoe said...

Maybe I'm too used to the cold, calculating machine that Mr. Conan Doyle wrote Holmes' character as since I found myself having to mentally adjust to this more human side of Holmes as I read the story. Even Watson's insights of Victorian society was not what I expected - though that was probably more for the modern audience. All in all, though, it was a good read and I'd happily place it next to the original canon in my virtual bookshelf.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Scott Parker

Yep, I think he got the balance just about right, although I think some will feel he went a little too modern.

The nature of the House of Silk is another thing that I think will divide opinion. But you're right, uncomfortable.

@ Zoe

I do agree, I am more drawn to the colder portrayal of Holmes, and think the character definitely loses something when he becomes too human. On the other hand, we live in a different world now I suppose. I think Horowitz needed to make the changes to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and overall it didn't detract too much for me.

muyiscoi said...

This book is very high on my reading list and I would be getting to it as soon as I can finish the books ahead of it. Hence, I have refrained from reading your review and would be coming back to it after I'm done reading the book and reviewing it myself.
I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and have always been weary of pastiches of Sir Author Conan Doyle's work. However, I recently read "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" by Laurie King (my review and liked it a lot so I'm more open to them now. The fact that this was officially endorsed makes it all the more enticing.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

This really is worth reading if you like Sherlock Holmes - drop back and let me know what you think when you've read it, and drop in a link to your review - I'd be interested to read what you thought about it :)

buddy2blogger said...

Superb review of the book.

Horowitz does capture the spirit of the canon nicely in his pastiche. My favorite parts are the two cameos and the vintage climax :)


Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the review.

I really hope Horowitz finds the time to write some more Holmes novels - this was a really enjoyable read.

Eesti said...

The House of Silk isn't one typical Sherlock Holmes's novel. The author, Anthony Horowitz, is the screenwriter of many Poirot's TV show. I have to admit that he's really good at elaborating clues. But Conan Doyle's style is somehow different from Agatha Christie. And in this book, there are so many mysterious incidents happened in one time, this definitely the style of Agatha. But also, the author is undoubtedly very familiar with Doyle's original work. The dialogue between Holmes and Watson, the description of their behavior and the way of thinking are the same as we knew.
Even if this isn't a book of Sherlock Holmes story, this is a book worth reading. I do like it for all the memories and surprises during my reading. For the relationship between Holmes and Watson in this book, it can touch your heart deeply, but it won't make you sad. Alive or not, we know these two would be together, forever.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Thanks for the comment Eesti. It's an interesting point about Horowitz's work on Poirot. However, I did feel that The House of Silk had far more elements of Conan Doyle's writing than Chrisite's. However, you're right, no auther can ever perfectly replicate another's style, but I think Horowitz does a pretty good job here.

heatherfeather said...

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I thought this was probably the best modern pastiche I've read. The emotional sides of Holmes and Watson are more pronounced but I could believe that the elder Watson could look back with more sentimentality. Some tiny mistakes but overall captures the excitement and adventures of the canon. The reveal is a bit too conspiracy for me but by that time I didn't care.

I really hope that Mr. Horowitz writes a sequel.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Thanks for stopping by Heather. I haven't read as widely as many of the dedicated Holmes/Doyle fans, but I certainly thought Horowitz did a great job, and would more than welcome further efforts.

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