Sherlock Holmes Redux

The phenomenon that is J. K. Rowling can sometimes eclipse the other great children’s writers out there. Long before Harry Potter picked up a wand, Anthony Horowitz was writing pacy, thrilling stories, featuring his comedy detective duo, The Diamond Brothers, his horror boarding school tales of Groosham Grange, and then the best young spy to challenge James Bond, Alex Rider. I read them all to my son, whose pernickety taste in novels was thoroughly and reliably satisfied.

Now with the full backing of the Conan Doyle Estate, Horowitz has written a new Sherlock Holmes novel, and this venture into adult fiction is, I think, an altogether more reliably satisfying affair than The Casual Vacancy. Anthony Horowitz has also written a great deal for television, and describes in an illuminating postscript how he thinks he has more fictional murders to his credit than any other living writer. He was responsible for a large number of Midsomer Murders (writers were encouraged to orchestrate a murder before each advertising break to hold the viewers interest and AH said he had to give up writing for them when he realised there must be no one left in Midsomer to bump off), as well as episodes of Poirot and Foyle’s War. With this wealth of experience behind him, and a life-long love of the Sherlock Holmes stories, he created ten rules for himself for this book, which included no over-the-top action sequences, no love interest, no gay references between Holmes and Watson, an exacting insistence on the right language and the inclusion of all the best-known characters in intriguing ways.

So, Watson, now elderly and alone, revisits his days as Holmes’ biographer one last time to recall a case so significant and so terrible that he intends to commit his manuscript to the vault for one hundred years before it should ever see the light of day. It is November 1890 and London is freezing and fog-bound. Holmes and Watson are sitting beside the roaring fire at 221B Baker Street, when an agitated young well-to-do man arrives, desperate for their help. He is an art dealer, who has been involved in the strange loss of four Constable paintings during a train robbery by a notorious gang in America. One of the leaders of the gang was killed by the police shortly after the crime and now his twin brother, a burly scar-faced man, is stalking him, intent on vengeance. This initial story turns out to be only the frame for a far darker and more complex affair that will nearly cost Sherlock Holmes his freedom and then his life. But Holmes is on top form here, tortured, yes, fiendishly perceptive, oh yes, slicker than Houdini and and often annoyingly omniscient, yet that wonderful heroic mastermind who can be relied upon to save the day. Watson is brilliantly done, the ordinary foil to Holmes’ extraordinary ability, yet he drives himself to his limits out of loyalty and respect for his friend. I’d say that they don’t make ‘em like that any more, only of course, they just have.

Pastiches, sequels, I generally avoid them all, but this is pretty fab. We used to listen to a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories on audio book during long car journeys and often there was a weird bit and a dull bit and a confusing bit. The House of Silk is like all the best bits strung together, with better, more nuanced characterisation than Conan Doyle had time or space to create. The story, the dialogue, the set pieces are all pitch perfect. Just one thing: I would have sold this as the perfect book for a family to listen to together, only Horowitz wrote his denouement with a the demands of a modern audience in mind and so it is a tad more shocking than is comfortable for younger children. But it is still delicately done and morally triumphant and a clever, satisfying piece of closure. The real problem is that if someone asked me where to start on the Sherlock Holmes casebook, I’d be tempted to say: with The House of Silk.



24 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes Redux

  1. I’m going straight over to the library site to order this now. I love Horowitz and have done ever since I was teaching primary, many many years ago. I have a vivid memory of reading “The Falcon’s Malteser” to my class of 10 and 11 year olds and finding myself suddenly caught out by the phrase “the private parts of Windsor Castle” which of course they all interpreted in entirely the wrong way:) Let this be a warning to any primary teachers reading this, always make sure you’ve read ahead before sitting down to enjoy half an hour’s storytelling with your children. Somehow, I’ve missed out on the Alex Rider stories. They were published after I moved into tertiary education. Still, that’s no reason why I shouldn’t read them now.

    • Oh my son and I loved The Falcon’s Malteser – your story about it is absolutely hilarious! And do try Alex Rider. I find he is wonderful on audio book – very entertaining. I’d love to know what you make of them, and of this.

  2. United Postal Service was supposed to deliver Rowling’s latest, which I forgot I’d pre-ordered half meaning to delete it on my amazon account, but no one was home. I’m not necessarily eager to begin, being only halfway taken with Harry. But, my students are crazy about Anthonoy Horowitz, and now I want to read this. Badly. To them, to myself.

    • Bellezza, I would love to know what you make of the new J K Rowling (it’ll take a strong recommendation for me to pick it up). And I’d love to know what you think of this. I found it very entertaining indeed.

  3. I saw this at the book shop and since I wasn’t familiar with the writer I was wondering whether it could be good. It seemed like one of those many sequels/prequels which seem to occupy book shops these days.
    I agree that J.K. Rowling overshadows many great children’s book authors.
    While I’m not going to rush and seek out his children’s book, I’ll put this on the list. I think I would like it.

    • I feel exactly like you and mostly avoid all those books that seem destined to pick up on a readymade audience by resurrecting famous fictional figures of the past. I so nearly didn’t try this, but I was very glad I did. It’s a very relaxing, comforting and entertaining novel. I’d love to know what you think of it.

    • Oh no, don’t be put off! I’m a big advocate for passionate friendships. I think we must be allowed to have friends whom we love without everyone else assuming that sexuality has a part to play in it. I really liked the way that Horowitz handles the relationship between Holmes and Watson. You can see just how much Watson values and reveres his friend. He respects him so and admires him enormously. He truly loves him. Sexuality can occur in a climate entirely devoid of love or even liking, and so it’s quite different and, I think, needs to keep itself distinct from other forms of affection. But hey, you may not agree with me and that’s fine, but Horowitz is still a classy author.

      • I really have to read the postscript myself to see if it is off putting. It’ll be the tone and words used that’ll be important I suspect. I’ve no issue with people writing dudes as friends instead of dudes as partners (although I would like to see a little equal balance in which of those kind of stories gets published). We need all the stories and there’s an argument that slashing all your favourite people together hides other interesting stories from view (although the canon of a story about friendship still exists no matter how other people read it).

        I just think it’s, um, an odd thing to make this a rule and to publish this rule in a postscript. It’s one thing to take a particular direction with a well known story and to think, right, my Watson and Sherlock are not gay, I will write them as super close friends. Every writer chooses their own interpretation of their story and that’s as it should be. It’s kind of another to call that a ‘rule’ that you set for yourself and to feel like you have to make sure everyone else understands that this rule existed as you wrote. ‘Rule’ implies…idk…that you are keeping yourself away from something that would detract from the story and also kind of disapproval of people who do to read romantic versions of the S/W relationship. And it’s odd that he didn’t think just writing an S/W friendship well and clearly would be enough to indicate the direction he wanted to take on their relationship. But I’m really funny about outside authorial inteference and avoid author interviews that are about the specifics of writing a particular book like the plague.

        Personally, I like S/W written as friends or as lovers. Hell I will read Sherlock married, or in love with Irene Adler. I have seen Basil the Great Mouse Detective a whole bunch of times. I like Sherlock stories – period and I’m happy holding multiple versions of canon in my head as I switch stories. ‘House of Silk’ sounds great, just might not like that postscript.

      • Jodie, really interesting to hear your thoughts on the matter of that postscript. I believe the first version of the book didn’t carry it, so you could avoid it altogether! As far as I can tell, the list of ‘rules’ was intended to keep him in the spirit of the original stories; they were guidelines that would prevent him writing something too 21st century. And of course there are ten of them, all with varying degrees of seriousness (the last is to refuse any author interviews wearing a deerstalker or smoking a pipe!), so it didn’t feel to me as if he’d singled this particular agenda out. But of course, there are always things that we readers are tender about, and I agree you’ll only know how you feel if you read it yourself. Or perhaps best just not to go anywhere near it, and take the book as it is.

  4. As a long-time Holmes fan I’m perhaps too picky, but I couldn’t love this new novel without reservations (IMHO the BBC series is way better – I posted about it in spring). Have you read Little Professor’s post about it? It is brilliant!

  5. I couldn’t figure out at first where I’d seen the name Anthony Horowitz before and then you called it out – Midsomer Murders! Bookman and I are watching them, we must be on season 4 or 5, and are always wondering before each episode, How is it everyone in Midsomer isn’t dead yet? But anyway, this sounds like a fun book. Will have to add it to my reading list for sure!

    • Ha, isn’t it funny how some names crop up all over the place? I didn’t realise that he’d written so many episodes of Foyle’s War. He really is a busy man! But this was fun, and I do think you’d enjoy it as a relaxing read.

  6. Well, I requested this from my library before I even finished reading your post! 😉 While I don’t much like sequels to ‘great’ novels by other writers (I don’t mind a good pastiche though), I have read so little of ACD that I think I might like this one very much–even not knowing so much about Sherlock Holmes (maybe even because I don’t know so much about him) it sounds like a really good read in any case. By the way–I read the Ian Rankin’s new novel (apparently his books always come out in October) was moved back so as not to be completely overshadowed by JK Rowlings’ new book. Will your son read the Horowitz?

    • I would definitely recommend this one for you, Danielle. I think not knowing too much about Sherlock Holmes IS an advantage. I’ve listened to lots of the stories but wouldn’t consider myself a real Holmes fan, and this book seemed to me even better than the original! It’s a really good, engrossing, wonderfully relaxing novel. Just fun. That’s so interesting about Ian Rankin – I’ll bet lots of authors begged their publishers not to put their books out at the same time. The windows of the bookshop in town are full of The Casual Vacancy and not much else! I wish my son would read this one, but I don’t expect so. He’s more into zombies at the moment (which makes me wonder if I could sneakily get Austen into his reading life by foisting the mash-up on him!). Still, at least The Walking Dead graphic novels give me the sense he’s reading something. 🙂

  7. I actually interviewed Horowitz in his hotel suite a number of years ago for WHO magazine, the Australian version of PEOPLE, and I am pleased to report he was just lovely. Super intelligent, wide-ranging interests, very humble and cool.

  8. Oh that’s so nice to know! He always seems like a really lovely chap, so it’s wonderful that he should turn out to be just that. Lucky you to get to meet him!

  9. Pingback: Best Books of 2012 | Tales from the Reading Room

  10. Pingback: [Requested Ebook] [NOVEL] – [PDF] – Alex Rider: Crocodile Tears BY Anthony Horowitz | Free Ebooks And Science Journals Download

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