Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: House of Silk

Reviewed by: Ananth

221B Baker Street. Dr Watson. Sherlock Holmes.
It is unquestionable that the above would bring to life a most vivid imagery for it is almost unimaginable for anyone to have not come across the Holmes'ian phenomena. Be it a text that has been forcibly thrust upon one during school or the sheer hunger that drives the avid detective fiction reader to devour every word written about Holmes, it is a given that each of us would have their own concoction of the Holmes image in our heads - for me though, throughout the House of Silk it was Robert Downey Jr who was invading my head!!

Amidst a plethora of stage and screen adaptations, there also exists quite a canon of derivative 'Holmes' in text - Laurie R King's Mary Russell series which I can quite recommend and Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Dr Watson in Without a Clue immediately spring to mind (a more extensive search is bound to produce a lot many results). January 2011 saw Anthony Horowitz being commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write a new novel featuring the genius and upon reading it I can safely say that it had been entrusted in the safest of hands. Well know for his Alex Rider novels and some acclaimed television work (Foyle's war), Horowitz has managed to produce a work that does complete justice to the original work while still being explorative enough to rein in the interest of the modern reader.

The House of Silk unfolds as one of the many unpublished case memoirs of Dr Watson that were safely stowed away in a safe-deposit box at Cox and Co. in Charring Cross Road (much like lost vault tapes, I suppose!). The specific events surrounding this account, as per explicit instructions, were to remain sealed for 100 years as Dr Watson believed that its full knowledge "would tear apart the very fabric of society" (as it existed circa 1890). The opening sees a rather dandified art dealer seeking Holmes' help sensing danger from a rather mysterious stalker wearing a flat cap. He relates to Holmes a fairly violent flashback set in America involving a train robbery and Irish gangsters, convinced that revenge was the motive of the stalker. Thus the ball is set in motion for an excellent mystery which takes on gigantic proportions as one ploughs through the pages - I would not be doing justice if I were to spell out events in their order as that is something to be experienced - how Horowitz manages to mesh these snowballing events expertly into a shuddering climax is the very hallmark of the House of Silk.

Horowitz manages to recreate the Victorian London and has remained true to the Doyle style in terms of the conversations that take place, Dr Watson's voice and other trifles as Holmes would say. However in between all this he manages to weave in the odd element here and there that would appeal to a wider and modern audience. Take for example the sentiments that Holmes expresses towards the Baker Street Irregulars - it manages to shade Holmes in a much warmer tone, something that is totally opposite to what Doyle used to portray him as - the single-minded harsh investigator whose sole aim rests with the resolution of a mystery.  As often echoed by Dr Watson in the book, there also seems to be a progressive and broader outlook towards societal scruples that is definitely new to a Holmes mystery and this eventually becomes critical to the untangling of events. The devout Holmes fan may not appreciate these detours (as with a couple of other minor items - you can solve the inconsistencies with the dates!!) but Horowitz manages to stray within limits. All the tropes associated with a Holmes'ian mystery are prevalent - Holmes pulling inferences out of thin air with subsequent explanations to Dr Watson, Homes retreating into a shell when challenged, and the inimitable Lestrade - the spirit of Doyle is alive and kicking without a doubt. I particularly enjoyed one interaction between Mycroft and Sherlock - it is probable a lesson on how great minds communicate whilst apparently saying very little (maybe akin to what might have ensued if Newton & Einstein were to have a dialogue!!).

I think it is needless to add here that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While being true to the original canon, Horowitz has opened the doors for a modern rendition. Paced extremely well with a well constructed mystery (in fact three mysteries resolve themselves by the time we are done with this book!), the House of Silk is a Holmes'ian mystery that would either leave you wanting for more from Horowitz or will make you go back and re-devour the original canon of 56 short stories and 4 novels - either way it is a treat and indeed, the game's afoot

(Ananth is a software engineer from Chennai who loves reading but loves even more the dissecting that follows the read.)


  1. Thanks for the review. I saw this book and thought about picking it up (as both my wife and I are big Holmes fans) but am always a little wary of updates or re-imaginings. Glad to hear this one lives up to the original. :-)

  2. Hi Okie,

    You are most welcome. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed with this re-imagining, indulge without a doubt :)


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  4. Sounds interesting... a modern Holmes! Somehow, remakes - tv, movies or books- have never excited me, but your description does make it sound worth a read!