Book review: Anthony Horowitz’ “The House of Silk”

Even though I read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a young kid, I have to admit that the many adaptations that have been made of it over the years are the ones that really stuck to my memory.

There was that crush I had on Nicholas Rowe because he played the title role in “Young Sherlock Holmes“. I was absolutely enthralled by “The Great Mouse Detective“, and anyone who knows me knows that I love the current BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

Because of all of that, I started reading the latest Sherlock Holmes novel, “The House of Silk”, basically as a blank canvas, probably less able to tell if Horowitz is diverting from the canon either in writing style or characterization. Would this work out to my advantage in the end?

“The House of Silk” begins with an aged Watson and a dead Sherlock Holmes. Watson is at the twilight of his life, and wishes to leave readers with a “final portrait” of the world’s only consulting detective.

This case, Watson asserts, involves something so shocking that it could possibly tear apart the very fabric of Victorian society. It is so shocking that Watson doesn’t want it published until after a century has passed since he’s written it.

It’s with those words that Watson plunges us into an adventure that takes us from the streets of America to the sleazy back alleys of London. As Holmes moves inexorably to the heart of the matter, will Watson’s fears be proven true? Or will all of this prove to just be a Victorian hullabaloo?

Because of all the reasons I’ve stated above, I’m not going to comment on whether Horowitz’ prose sticks closely to Doyle’s own style or whether it deviates wildly from it. I will say that Horowitz — or his editor — has done a great job with cutting the chapters. Nineteen of the book’s 20 chapters ended with cliffhangers that were effective at keeping me turning the pages, even if I sometimes found Watson’s tone throughout the book to be much more melodramatic than the situation warranted.

That melodrama was one of the things that I had trouble with while reading the book. Perhaps my appreciation was a little tainted by my exposure to all the other “unauthorized” interpretations of Holmes, but none of the “monumental” events that happened to Holmes in this particular adventure hardly deserved that tag.

But where that bombast proved to be most damaging was during the great reveal of the “scandal” that would tear apart Victorian society as Holmes and Watson knew it. As prudish as Victorian society was back then, and even as homosexuality was definitely taboo, I still found it a bit silly that all of the furor was over gay pedophiles.

Coupled with the fact that everyone seems to be positively glowing in their reviews of this book, I ended up being slightly disappointed with this new work officially sanctioned by the Doyle estate. If there’s anything positive I could say after reading “The House of Silk”, it is that I wanted to dig up my copy of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” and try to familiarize myself with Doyle’s world once again.

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