Review: ‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz’s attempt to replicate the infamous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ had me intrigued. Did this man that, I confess, I recognised only as a children’s author, have what it took to bring Holmes back to life, and recreate a 19th century man despite his 21st century bias?

I should have done my homework: an experienced crime writer already, Horowitz proved he had the detective close at heart, showing his devotion to the series in creating a gripping and intriguing final story for John Watson to create, maintaining the characterisation and twisting storylines that Conan Doyle adeptly produced before him.

The story itself was perplexing in a good way: what on earth did an art dealer enquiring about a potential stalker have to do with a murdered orphan and a network of upper class men? The answer was actually not a lot in the grand scheme, the link was there but it wasn’t vital to the survival of the plot; everything seemed to organically blossom and grow from this one set point, almost accidentally. There could be no air of contrivance in this sense; everything was built upon a solid foundation, and as with most people (but hopefully in a less extreme manner!), Holmes and Watson got distracted from their initial mystery, but didn’t forget to follow up before the close.

Holmes and Watson were as we left them after Conan Doyle’s end. Both focused, friends without overdoing the bromance (as is wont to do in the modern adaptations), and driven by their own motives of care and the desperate desire to unravel a mystery and solve the puzzle. In a way, Holmes’ vanishing from the centre of the puzzle for a moment was perfect. Of course we want to read about perhaps the world’s most famous detective, but it gave Horowitz space to build suspense through Watson’s lack of knowledge, throw us off the scent of events (such as ‘Rivers’ in the prison hospital) and then bring us back in more baffled than ever when Holmes had developed his grip on events – rather than making Holmes’ instantly know everything, development was given off the page, in order to add realism and make us believe in his process.

The actual House of Silk became apparent to me in the courtroom chapter and from there I developed my own suspicions (which, unfortunately – and you’ll see why I say that – turned out to be true), again allowing you space to be your own detective, employing Holmes’ methods and seeing if you’re left as near-clueless as Watson or on a par with the great detective himself.

There were a few contextual things I found out of place, but chances are it’s me being hyper-critical; I found references to Watson’s time in Afghanistan a bit more heavily emphasised than previously, and there were a few language choices that didn’t fit the time zone. That aside, I was hugely impressed over how a 21st century man could achieve a consistent and engaging 19th century tone; Horowitz captured the essence of Holmes’ era brilliantly, making it entirely plausible that, if you read the book without knowing a thing about its creation, you would place it as one of Conan Doyle’s own masterpieces.

In short, if you want a harrowing and well-paced mystery/thriller, this is the one to go for. It’s accessible to modern audiences in the time of rip-roaring Holmes adventures being screened without losing the Victorian glow that roots Holmes’ brilliance for its time period.

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