Watson did it again!!
Let me explain. According to ‘the Game’ Sherlock Holmes-fanatics play, it wasn’t Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the famous Sherlock Holmes-stories: it was Watson himself, with Doyle acting as cover and literary agent.
Although both Doyle and Watson have been dead a long time now, we know that Watson kept a ‘battered tin dispatch-box’ in which he collected all the stories about the singular adventures of his friend and colleague Holmes, which were, for reasons of quality or prudence or other, not fit to be published.
Over the years some of these stories did mysteriously appear in print, and it looks like The House of Silk ‘by’ Anthony Horowitz is one of them. With Horowitz apparently acting as Watson’s new ‘agent’.
During Doyle’s lifetime four novels and 56 stories were published. These together are affectionately and reverentially called ‘the Canon’. Of the hundreds of new Sherlock Holmes-stories that have been appearing for the last century or so, many were written as homage to the originals; or as pastiche, parody, or as a new (sci-fi-/horror-/gay-/Freudian-/ cross-over-) interpretation. And although many of these were OK, only a few had the same qualities as the Canon. Some suspect these good ones to be ‘original Watsons’ as well…
The House of Silk almost definitively is one if them. The characters, not only of Holmes and Watson, but also of Inspector Lestrade, brother Mycroft Holmes and other regulars, are so well done, so ‘right’, there can hardly be any doubt. Also the dialogue and the way Holmes and Watson behave and treat each other are spot on. This must be the result of first hand experience by the author…
It does look like Anthony Horowitz edited the original manuscript a bit, to ‘modernize’ it. It appears to be cleansed of the too ‘old fashioned’ typical Victorian grammar and vocabulary. This, however, is not too big a problem.
The resulting book is an action-packed mystery, with the typical deductions, a horse-driven cart-chase, and a crime so horrible that it is understandable that Watson thought it was not appropriate for it to be published.
It is interesting to see in this story a different side of Watson, and even of Holmes. They are shown to have feelings that transcend the class-conscious stiff-upper-lip-ness of the average Victorian gentleman. The plight of the ‘common man’, the poor working classes, and especially the terrible situation of London’s street children, are normally – if ever – only mentioned in passing. In the entire Canon we get not much more than a glimpse of those inhuman conditions, and if commented upon, it is done so in a typical stoic Victorian fashion.
Without giving away too much, in The House of Silk these terrible conditions play a key role and as a result we learn that even Holmes – of Watson we already knew this – has a more human, caring side.
In short, with the (sometimes not so nice) Victorian setting, foggy London, dark atmosphere, large gothic mansions and two different plots that are nicely strung together in the end, this really is great fun to read, however nasty the crimes are. For avid Holmes-fans this is surely a must-read; for everybody else it comes highly recommended, for all the reasons noted above. As one of those fans I might be biased, but I am sure anybody who picks up this book will enjoy it and will want to discover the mystery that is The House of Silk.