House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
Just when you thought that modern incarnations of Sherlock Holmes were forever to be consigned to the medium of film, along comes Anthony Horowitz, with permission from the Conan Doyle estate, to resurrect the Don of Logic in literary form. (This review contains spoilers)
In this adventure, Holmes is approached by a man who believes that he’s being stalked by a Boston gangster. The story he relates reveals that he visited the US to accompany some valuable artwork that his gallery sold to a Bostonian Brahmin. The paintings are destroyed in a botched robbery attempt and a reward offered for the capture of the thieves.
Eventually the gang, all but one, are shot dead by the police. The gallery owner heads back to England convinced that the remaining hoodlum is after some payback. Holmes is thrilled with the challenge and begins his investigation, ably assisted as always by Dr Watson.
The US stalker is located in a run-down London hotel, but too late. He has apparently shot himself. Holmes had entrusted surveillance of the man to his Baker Street Irregulars, the young waifs and strays who frequent the dangerous streets of foggy London. One of the boys, Ross, disappears soon after the killing and Homes fears for the child’s safety.
As Holmes and Watson poke and prod their way around south-east England, they encounter a number of very powerful and influential people tenuously connected to Ross’ disappearance. All paths lead to a reform school for orphaned boys, a place of education and shelter where abandoned children are taken in. Ross was resident there before he ran away.
It is as Holmes appears to be making much progress that disaster strikes. During an inquiry into an opium house, a young woman – Ross’ sister – is found shot dead. Holmes is identified by a supposedly credible witness as the man responsible. He is also clearly under the influence of the sordid narcotic himself, and is subsequently arrested by an over-zealous police detective. Watson is both disgusted and beside himself with rage. He refuses to believe in the guilt of his friend and his views are shared by Inspector Lestrade, the police detective usually assigned to Holmes’ cases.
It’s at this time that the elusive Moriarty makes his cameo appearance. He abducts Watson, politely, to better express his desire to see Holmes freed. Apparently, whatever is going on, in the Holmes investigation, is so heinous that Moriarty wishes to see an end to it and believes that Holmes is the man to get that done. Moriarty, criminal genius that he is, presents Watson with a master key for the prison so that Holmes might escape.
Holmes, meanwhile, has plans of his own. As Watson prepares an escape plan for the wily detective, he finds that he is too late. Holmes has vanished from the prison. The authorities are baffled as to how Holmes managed to escape from the most secure facility in Victorian Britain. There are rumours that some Fenian rebels assisted him (made that bit up, but it’s plausible). Watson is elated and relieved, if a tad anxious.
The House of Silk is a thoroughly excellent novel. It could have been penned by Conan Doyle himself, such is the authenticity brought to both characters and plot by Horowitz. Holmes is as he was in the Victorian books. The settings are vivid and the social commentary emotive. The author brings a much-needed spotlight to bear on the appalling treatment of children in that era. By today’s standards it is sickening to think of how very young children were abandoned to the streets where they fell prey to all manner of evil. It’s equally, and perhaps more, sickening to realize that it’s still happening today in countries such as Nigeria, India and Mexico.
In this particular Holmes story, there are a multitude of twists and turns. The plot keeps the reader guessing right up until the end. The subject matter is harsh and, as the author explains in an afterword, it’s not what Conan Doyle would have chosen. But then again, modern times call for a modern approach, and Rebel Voice is impressed that Anthony Horowitz has stepped forward in this way.
Needless to say, Holmes emerges with all the answers, sometimes before you think of the questions to ask. Upon his return to freedom, he throws himself into his pursuit of those responsible for the murder of Ross. Both he and Watson determine to confront the guilty whilst clearing Holmes’ good name. It makes for a gripping finale as the investigative dominoes fall just where Sherlock wants them to. Links are revealed between the reform school, the target of the alleged stalker and his US wife, and those movers and shakers from high society who would have seen Holmes wrongly executed as a murderer.
It should be noted that The House of Silk is told from a retrospective viewpoint, provided by Watson as he recalls the episode for his memoirs. Holmes is gone by this time, no doubt investigating the disappearance of a harp and some halos in heaven (Peter’s a closet kleptomaniac). A lonely Watson, long widowed, laments the absence of his one true friend throughout his recount, and this adds a strong streak of nostalgia to the story. It also contributes to the attraction of this novel.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. This is a true Holmesian novel for the modern age. Sherlock is at his investigatory best, with Watson fulfilling his sidekick role admirably. The plot is top-notch; the pace frenetic and the overall effect one of great Victorian drama. For fans of Holmes, this book is a must. For everyone else, read The House of Silk and become a fan of Holmes.