on November 7, 2011
The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz is a new Sherlock Holmes novel, which is the first officially sanctioned take-off of Sherlock Holmes by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. For the Sherlock Holmes lover, this is a must read. For everyone else, I'd highly recommend it.
Anthony Horowitz is a famed writer of young adult action novels (the Alex Rider series) and also an acclaimed writer of the PBS series Foyle's War (a must see for mystery lovers/WWII buffs). His connections to Sherlock Holmes and the Canon were not as established.
Conan Doyle had a distinct writing style (somewhat sparse on detail of Victorian life but more than enough to fill the canvas) and created vivid and memorable characters. Although Holmes solved his share of murders, he also solved all kinds of other crimes and mysteries. Creating the perfect pastiche requires echoing Conan Doyle and remembering that Holmes was not a superhero (as he is portrayed in the Robert Downey, Jr. movies).
In The House of Silk, Horowitz gets it right on all counts. The tone, the writing, the characters and even the plotting matches up beautifully with Conan Doyle. Horowitz also brings back other minor characters from the Canon for non-distracting cameo appearances, which is a delight for lovers of the Canon. Yet, Horowitz makes Sherlock his own, creating a story with a bit more action than Conan Doyle gave us, which will keep you glued to the book. The story is a classic tale of Holmes and Watson, with Watson as the narrator. Watson writes the story after Holmes has passed away and seals it away for one hundred years because the story is to explosive to be shared during their lifetimes. From there, the story unfolds with two unrelated story lines, the action builds and Horowitz captures your imagination. If like mysteries at all, this is one not to miss. If you love Sherlock Holmes, this is a must read.
on November 4, 2011
60 years ago, as a teenager, I devoured the complete Sherlock Holmes lexicon with the greatest of excitement and joy. Since then I have read, watched and listened carefully -- Holmes-like -- to all things Sherlock. Sometimes pleased (the early Britt portrayals) sometimes disgusted (Robert Downey, Jr, need I say more?) I have hungered and thirsted for the real Sherlock. And here he is, in his full and real glory, on the trail of the bad guys, making progress from the slightest of clues, adding two and two and getting the real answer, not the four I get with the evidence. This is the real Holmes in the real London with the real characters we knew and loved but with devilishly new crimes to stop and perplexing trails to follow. As anyone who watched "Foyle's War" knows, Horowitz is a genius, never more than here. Every nuance, every phrase, every fog-lit street, everything is right -- Sherlock and Watson are back, and we can all say hallelujah!
on November 8, 2011
The House of Silk is over hyped which probably caused me to rate it lower than I might have had it not been touted as the second coming of Conan Doyle.
First, there have been many authorized additions to the Canon. This is hardly the first and most definitely not the best. My personal favorite is The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Adrian Conan Doyle ( son and 'literary executor' of Arthur Conan Doyle ) and John Dickson Carr ( well worth reading for his own stories under his name and his pen name of Carter Dickson ).
Second, Horowitz seems to have attempted to modernize the attitudes, actions and style to suit today's audience. We lose some of the Victorian charm and the feeling of being in another era. I find that detracts from the book.
Third, both the Holmes' seem somewhat out of character. Sherlock is less the analytic machine, cold and emotionless and more moody, brooding and a bit weepy. It takes too long for him to return to character. Mycroft is more concerned with keeping his position than doing what is right for the country. It feels like Horowitz takes book time to allow his characters to find their pace.
Fourth, Horowitz finds it necessary to provide a back story in the preface that is not necessary to the story. I didn't find that it added much beyond page count.
In spite of all those negative words, Horowitz is an experience and capable writer. It may take a while to for the reader to discover that. And, eventually there is a sufficiency of action and mystery to keep the puzzle solver distracted and attracted.
The bottom line is that it is a book worth reading. It's just not as good or as unique as the publisher would like us to believe.
on October 23, 2011
I just finished reading "The House of Silk" a few hours ago. I'm a lifelong Sherlock Holmes aficionado, at least since receiving the complete canon on my 13th birthday. Since then, I've read any even-halfway-promising pastiche that has come out. Of course, these range from very good to dreadful (for the latter, see my Amazon review of "Sherlock Holmes And The Lyme Regis Horror").
I rate the House of Silk (read an Advanced Reader's Copy) by far the best pastiche I've ever read. The story line is exciting and interesting. Holmes' and Watson's characters are remarkably consistent with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's (ACD) portrayals. And, unlike numerous other pastiches, Holmes is at the top of his deduction and detection form.
Though the writing seems consistent overall with that in the canon, the only note of discordance, as mentioned in the title of my review, is that Horowitz's writing is superior to that of Doyle's - more flowing and clear. Purportedly written by Watson towards the end of his life, the faithful doctor is more reflective and revelatory than in his "earlier stories." Comments on Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade were original, illuminated their and Watson's characters and relationships, and, again, consistent with how they were portrayed by ACD - just "deeper." These expansions were all believable, coming from an older, more experienced, more thoughtful Watson, who accepts he's nearing the end of his natural life.
Can't recommend this book highly enough. Only strongly hope that this is just the beginning of Horowitz's Holmes' novels.
This book was hyped so much that I suppose I should have been prepared to be disappointed. I was especially let down by Michael Dirda, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and a respected writer and critic. His review of "The House of Silk" in "The Washington Post" prompted me to get the book. He praised "Horowitz's skill in . . . mimicking . . . the style and tone of Arthur Conan Doyle." I must respectfully disagree with his assessment. Horowitz's first few sentences reminded me of Mark Twain's comment on his wife's attempts at swearing: she had the words, but she didn't have the tune. Mr. Horowitz has the words, but the tune is not Doyle/Watson, and the words actually aren't quite right. Horowitz is prolix, whereas Doyle, Dirda himself says in his book "On Conan Doyle," was "unrivaled for crisp, narrative economy." In addition, when Horowitz/Doyle morphed into Horowitz/Dickens to comment on social conditions in Victorian England, I almost discarded the book. There is no question that the conditions existed, but they were not part of the London evoked by Doyle for Holmes and do not belong in a novel purporting to be about his and Watson's adventures.
A seal of the Conan Doyle Estate Trust is embossed on the dust jacket of the book, and the puff on the inside of the jacket boasts that the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate authorized the novel, the first time it has done such a thing in 125 years. It should have waited another 125 years. There are many pastiches that are far more successful than "The House of Silk." Even some of the pastiches and parodies collected by Ellery Queen in "The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1944; taken off the market at the insistence of the Doyle heirs!) are better at mimicking the originals.
The book earns only one star as an unsuccessful Holmes pastiche, but I give it two because it is not a bad story if you ignore who the main characters are supposed to be and think of them as Tom and Joe.
A note of caution: if you have a youngster just discovering the delights of Doyle's originals and looking for more, you should read "The House of Silk" to decide if your child is ready for its denouement.
Of all the Holmes pastiches I have read (and there have been many), Horowitz has, I believe, achieved the most authentic Watsonian voice. For most of the time, it is possible to believe the book was written by Conan Doyle, the master storyteller, himself. All the regular characters are there - Inspector Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, brother Mycroft - and as a Holmes fanatic, I wasn't conscious of any of those jarring inconsistencies that mar many a Holmes tribute. The plot is complex and well written, and we see Holmes both as the calculating thinker and as the man of action. The Holmes/Watson relationship is very faithfully portrayed.
However, I felt that sometimes Horowitz allowed the tone to stray quite far from the originals. For example, Watson's concern for the contrast of rich and poor, his reflections on the street urchins, smacked more of Dickens than Conan Doyle. Suddenly the Baker Street Irregulars are no longer the cheeky, street-smart gang of old; now they are to be pitied for their poverty and the harshness of their lives. All true, of course, but not in keeping with the originals. I also felt that the main strand of the plot was well outside the bounds that Conan Doyle would have set and as a result in the latter stages it got more difficult to forget that this was not the genuine article.
In the Kindle version, there is included a very interesting essay by Horowitz where he describes how he came to write the book and lays out the ten rules he set himself, before beginning to write, to try to ensure an authentic flavour. He admits that he broke one or two of the rules along the way and I feel that was a pity - had he managed to stay within them I believe the end result would have been as close to perfect as any homage could be.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, which I am sure would only bother other Holmes pedants like myself, I think this is a very good read, well written, well plotted and full of interest. The best faux-Holmes I have read, I would recommend this to existing fans and newcomers alike.
on October 10, 2012
I rate Anthony Horowitz highly as a writer and came to this expecting he would easily master the atmosphere and style of Conan Doyle. I am no Holmes fanatic and am not troubled by the odd inconsistency or even the odd mistake. Doyle made them himself, sometimes (though not often) his own characterisation wobbled a bit. But all workable Holmes retreads (except the modern ones) necessarily require a prose which resembles Doyle's and emulates the haunting world he created. You have to capture the way Holmes and Watson expressed themselves. Yet, at this most basic level, 'The House of Silk' fails.
As many others here have stated, it keeps slipping into a lumbering modern prose Doyle could not possibly have written. I accept nobody cares about the odd mistake or anachronism (though any decent imitator should do their best to avoid them.) But the overall style of the book is another matter and can't help having a major effect on the characterisation. The original Holmes would never, for example, say 'That's right' as he does here when someone recognises him. Not only is that modern English, it also feels utterly wrong for what is supposed to be a languorous, meditative hero.
Holmes, as Doyle created him, was a formidable brooding and highly intelligent figure, given to small bursts of enthusiasm. Here in contrast he is transformed into a sometimes garrulous and gross man who, for example, calls Watson 'My Boy' like some jovial saloon bar raconteur. Similarly, at one critical point in a perilous case, he suddenly claims inexplicably and irrelevantly 'no harm has been done' when it palpably has and they are nowhere near a solution.
Unike Doyle's detective, who appraised police officers on their merits, this one disparages not just Lestrade but "almost every police officer he encountered." It comes as no surprise therefore when he starts making very odd deductions. Watson is impressed when the detective correctly deduces that a child with an illness has influenza. So how was this magic achieved? Holmes merely asserts that, because the illness is minor, it must be influenza!
And so-- dreadful to report but unsurprising-- Holmes here descends after failure into mawkish self-pity. He wonders aloud how he can go on living and even asserts "I have no right to call myself a detective." Doyle's character would certainly express poignant regret, he'd get the blues, play his violin, stop eating. But he'd never indulge in this kind of histrionic, breast-beating or deny his own skills.
There are points of interest in the plot but the tone is so jarring they go for almost nothing. In the early pages of the book Horowitz manages to misspell the name of Doyle's literary idol Edgar Allan Poe. A tiny proofing error, hardly worth mentioning. And yet it is the one mistake Doyle himself could and would never have made. This small false note and all the much bigger ones tell the same story. This is not Doyle's world; unfortunately it is not even a very good fake.
on January 23, 2012
The House of Silk is a lead-footed, poorly written book. The title alone made me think of the "Cleveland Street Scandal." So I was not surprised by that aspect of it when it finally turned up.
Ignoring for the moment that it included names like "Holmes" and "Watson" it is just NOT a well-written tale. The writing is sluggish and some of it makes no sense at all. At times I had the impression that it had been written in the third person and hastily converted to first person. Sometimes a 1st person narrator could not possibly have seen what was being described. Such was the case with the Boston raid. We have someone narrating to Holmes & Watson what someone else told him. The story would not have had the kind of location detail that it did in such case.
Some readers have complained that Horowitz makes Watson stupid. A bigger complaint is that Horowitz treats the reader as stupid. For example, when Holmes in disguise meets Mrs. Watson at the train station. How many of you did not know that was Holmes in disguise? How many of you still did not know it when Watson said it was Holmes in disguise? How many of you needed Watson to rehash why Holmes would be in disguise? Why hit the reader over the head repeatedly, esp. will such a small point? It certainly slows down the pace of the story.
In other places action or dialogue repeats a page or two after it first occurs. I've seen that in manuscripts. It is easy for a writer to do, and if it is hastily written, the writer may not do enough read-throughs to catch it. But an editor is supposed to catch that kind of thing and point it out so one is removed. In general it seems more like an unedited first or second draft ravel than a finished novel.
As far as it being close to Doyle's style .. any of his styles in any of his writings? Well, maybe for a page or two in the middle but not most of it.
Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson? Horowitz might occasionally accidentally hit the right tone but it is rare. Far more common is that Holmes says and does very un-Holmes-like things. Most of the time Holmes seemed to be dragged around by circumstances rather than leading the action. The "Let's just fall into this trap and see what happens" strategy is not usually one Holmes employs.
Watson keeps wandering off in mid-story to babble about his feelings about his relationship with Holmes. In the rare case that Watson ever did this it in the Canon it was usually short -- a flash, not a soliloquy.
Watson is a better doctor than Horowitz gives him credit for (Remember Doyle was a doctor!) and I was absolutely appalled when Dr. Watson walks right past a constable who was shot in the chest without even bothering to check the wound!
Lestrade does not sound like himself and Lestrade is usually one of the easiest characters to emulate.
The "deduction exchange" between Sherlock & Mycroft sounds off key & hostile. Mycroft's helplessness and lack of concern for his brother seems wrong.
The Moriarty cameo is ridiculous. Moriarty's "reasoning" and what he did made no sense. Would the writer have us believe Moriarty is stupid, too? Would Watson really have made that deal with the devil with only the devil's word? Does Watson not have more faith in Holmes than that? The Moriarty cameo also had no effect on the story. It could be pulled out and no one would be the wiser. That and a few other things made me wonder if the writer was given a list of things that the "estate" or the publisher wanted in the story: Moriarty - check.
There were a number of historical and canonical errors. I laughed when Holmes leaned over the gasogene to light a cigarette. I don't know how Holmes managed that feat but I do know that Horowitz doesn't know what a gasogene is!
We all know that Doyle made errors in the stories. Most often they were inconsistencies or quick errors, an incorrect date or name. But Horowitz out-performs Doyle in that department. Throughout the House of Silk people are greeting Watson as the author of the tales, citing specific stories in the Canon and sometimes mentioning the periodical they read it in. HOWEVER, the story is set in 1890. At that time only A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of Four had been published! The first of the "Adventures" was not written and published until 1891! So maybe the year was wrong? Except that it was clear that this story was set BEFORE Reichenbach which is impossible. The short stories started being published during the Great Hiatus. There is no way out of this tangle other than this whole story being a hallucination by Watson, or, more likely, Horowitz.
on January 5, 2012
There are moments during the House of Silk in which the author hits his stride and is able to capture some of the magic of the Conan Doyle stories, but alas, that is not very often. If this, in the view of critics, is an excellent addition to the "canon" then there is a very low bar for entry into that circle of works.
The problems with this book are many. First, there is the rather patched together nature of the two stories which are told within its covers. These stories, which co-exist rather uneasily with one another within the covers of the book, just aren't filled out enough to be very interesting. Having finished the book, there is the tantalizing feeling of having read the outline for better stories, which were never quite told. Although it is not uncommon for there to be several plots in one novel, see the novel, Possession, for example, this novel does a poor job of fusing them together. The stories feel pasted together, dumped down side by side, almost like two separate novelettes linked by a few common characters. The story which opens the novel is shoved aside for the one which should be called the House of Silk, and then the novel returns to that initial story, wrapping it up unceremoniously as though the author had decided that he was no longer interested with it or couldn't make the novel any longer.
Another issue with this pastiche, as with so many of the Sherlock Holmes pastiches, is that Watson is depicted as a dullard, scarcely of average intelligence. The Watson of this novel is of that genre of bumbling, dim-witted Watsons as played by Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone films. Why Watson should be played almost as though he suffers from senile dementia is not clear to me. I don't think I ever received the impression while reading the Conan Doyle stories that Watson was an idiot or a moron, far from it. He was a man of intelligence and wit who was simply outclassed by Holmes, as would you or I. Alas, this story has Watson straining at problems and circumstances which wouldn't deceive a five year old child, much less an older man who had spent decades with Holmes. [plot spoiler] Watson's agonizings, for instance over the attempt to frame Holmes with the murder of a young girl, are quite unbelievable and make for heavy going for the reader.
Of course, Horowitz also tends to treat his audience as not quite alert or intelligent. For example, [plot spoiler] Watson is given a key to Holmes's jail cell (the author seems unable to decide whether Holmes has merely been arraigned for murder or convicted of it) by none other than Professor Moriarty, as it subsequently develops. Alas, as Horowitz then makes clear to us, there are so many locked doors and warders between Holmes's cell and freedom that one key would be quite useless. The manner in which Horowitz has Holmes escape is truly one of his better passages, really worthy of Conan Doyle himself, but it makes the whole thread of narrative as to Moriarty superfluous and unnecessary. All that we get out of it is that Moriarty disapproved of those running the House of Silk and wanted to put them out of business by siccing Holmes on them. We are asked to believe that Moriarty, the criminal mastermind of his age, the near equal of Holmes in intelligence, did so in a way so as to be of no help at all to Holmes, either in his sending Holmes a length of white silk ribbon or giving Watson the key to Holmes's cell. Is this just lazy writing on Horowitz's part, or does he not think his audience will be alert enough to see through this flimsy addition to his novel? Whatever the reason, it makes for disappointing reading.
A further problem with this story, is the use of modern idioms and expressions. One glaring example among many uses of modern phraseology and idioms is the unfortunate phrase, "at the end of the day," a currently over-used favorite in summing up asomething. Just aside from the banality of resorting to this hackneyed cliche, it is grotesque to have it placed in the mouths of early 20th century characters. The author is to be congratulated, I suppose, in avoiding the use of "awesome" or "absolutely."
The use of 21st century slang and phraseology goes hand in hand with an unfortunate attempt to impose 21st century social concerns on the characters of the Conan Doyle stories. The most glaring example [plot spoiler] is Holmes's reaction to the death of one of the Baker Street Irregulars, Ross. We are treated to much tedious agonizing by Holmes as to his own thoughtlessness in exposing the young lads to harm. Our author, himself, however, seems scarcely to believe this, especially since the street urchin who is killed meets his end not because he is in Holmes's employ, but because he uses information gained through it to blackmail one of the principals of the House of Silk. Yet Horowitz has Holmes, the great master mind, agonize over this at some length as Holmes's fault. Shoddy work and unnecessary filler.
Finally, there are the careless bits of writing and plotting which litter the novel. The unnecessary and badly done insertion of Moriarty into the novel has already been commented upon. Another is the fate of Watson's wife. Horowitz takes care to have Watson agonize over his own possible role in her death by typhus, yet at the end of the novel, she is neither dead nor even ailing.
This is rather a shoddily written, poorly plotted affair which fans of Conan Doyle will pass if they know best.
on January 15, 2012
Okay, I admit that chronology is one of my pet peeves. But it seems like such an easy thing to get straight. I just don't understand books where the main characters are childhood friends, aged 5 and 7, and then meet later in adulthood, now aged 28 and 33. Or characters who marry and have a child, and 15 years later the child is all grown, out of college, and busy in the working world. Yet things like that happen *all the time*. And this book has all sorts of inconsistencies of that type.
First of all - the stories. Among the references in the book we find:
- "Mr. Sherlock Holmes has achieved public renown through a series of stories ..."
- "I have just finished this one here, the `Adventure of the Copper Beeches', and I think it very well done."
- "And you must be Dr. Watson. We have read your stories in class. The boys are delighted by them."
- "Are you the man in the stories?"
Yet the novel starts out saying it takes place in November of 1890. At that point in time *none* of the Sherlock Holmes stories had even been published! Yes the two novels, "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of (the) Four" had been published. But neither had been big sellers and had attracted little attention from the reading public. It was the short stories that made Holmes's reputation, and the first one of those didn't appear in print until July, 1891. "Cooper Beeches" in particular was not published until June, 1892.
So all these references in November of 1890 are jarring to say the least.
Secondly, when is Watson supposed to have written this? The clues are all over the place. First is his clue saying that he has left instructions for this manuscript to be sealed for 100 years. Since publication was in 2011 this argues for a 1911 date of writing. But of course that's clearly wrong. He states that Holmes had died a year previously, which would have put his death in 1910. But since we know, from the Canon, that Holmes was alive and well in 1914 ("His Last Bow") this clearly can't be the case. So the "100 years" obviously must be wrong. Watson speaks that as of his writing a terrible war is waging in Europe. But which war? In the novel Watson writes, about the events in this novel, "Sitting here on my own, 25 years later, I still have every detail of it printed on my mind". Since the action of the novel takes place in 1890 this argues for a 1915 date. Apparently a healthy, active and not elderly Holmes has dropped dead shortly after the events of "His Last Bow". This date does fit in with comments such as Mycroft still being alive and busy in another career, and Lestrade being a big bug at Scotland yard.
But what of Watson himself? He was also active and not elderly in 1914, only early 60s. Yet in the prologue he describes himself as one of "so many old men", attended to by nurses. Hoping to have the strength to send his manuscript to the publisher. Of course his health could have declined in one year - due to cancer or some other disease. But the would have made him *ill*, not elderly. And other details cause problems as well.
In 1890 Watson is still childless, not only childless, but his wife Mary is very ill, making it unlikely that any children will be born of this first marriage. And this is born out by the Canonical stories where Watson returns to live with Holmes again after Mary's death - clearly still childless. References to a second wife appear in stories taking place in the early 1900s. Yet "25 years later" he claims to have 3 children and 7 grandchildren! Possible? Perhaps his second wife came to the marriage with 3 children already and Watson is their stepfather?
A comment about another review suggests that the "war raging in Europe" is actually WWII. This certainly makes far more sense for Watson being an elderly man attended by nurses, having 3 children and 7 grandchildren (one of them at least old enough to object to being called by his given name, Sherlock), Holmes having died in his sleep ... But doesn't tie in with Mycroft still being active in his career at age roughly 100, or Watson's references to "25 years later", or keeping the document sealed for 100 years.
So in the end there seems to be no way to resolve the chronological bloopers. If I try to ignore them and just concentrate on the story I find it quite enjoyable. Books like this have a hard job - trying to appeal to long-time fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as to new readers who might never have read the stories or novels at all. The few times Watson seems to step out of his particular "voice" are mostly in areas where gaps need to get filled in to assist those who are unfamiliar with the Holmes Canon. It was a fun read, but I'm still glad I just took the book from the library. I don't need it cluttering up my own bookshelves. It won't be a re-read for me. And those darn bloopers! They seem so easy to get straight. Why do they happen so often?