I needed a break after reading two Thomas Hardy novels in a row so I decided to read something less serious and depressing: Anthony Horowitz‘s Sherlock Holmes novel (Arthur Conan Doyle Estate-approved and authorized), The House of Silk.
Written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The House of Silk chronicles two connected cases from the perspective of Holme’s best and most trusted friend, Dr. John Watson. Written a few years after Holme’s death, Dr. Watson leaves strict instructions at the start of the novel that the manuscript was to be stored away and not published until a hundred years later because of its very sensitive and scandalous contents – one that had far-reaching consequences which may implicate the most powerful people of the country.
The story unfolds as Holmes gets a visit from Edmund Carstairs, an art dealer, claiming that he was being stalked by a notorious gang leader he had encountered the previous year on a disastrous trip to America. Carstairs describes the events leading up to his trip to America and his involvement with one of America’s most feared gangsters. However, back in London, Carstairs’ stalking soon leads to attempted assault, robbery, and ultimately murder. After the terrible murder, which was unforeseen, Carstairs considers the unfortunate case closed but to Sherlock Holmes, it was merely the beginning of a more sinister crime that involved the whole of England.
In the course of Holme’s investigation on the identity of Mr. Carstairs’ stalker, he and Watson learn of a mysterious, ominous place called the House of Silk. Tapping various resources and following leads to uncover its true nature, Holmes and Watson find themselves in life-threatening situations throughout the novel. Holmes’ investigation takes the pair across London, from posh art galleries, dubious pawnbrokers, and pub owners to opium dens of ill repute and charitable boys’ homes for the benefit of London’s street urchins.
I admit that up until nearly the very end of the novel, I found the story a bit bland and unexciting. I felt that I pretty much figured out who was who without yet knowing the whys and hows. The novel has its fair share of the usual twists and turns and false leads prevalent in Sherlock Holmes stories and other crime-fiction novels, but The House of Silk reveals its explosive secret only at the very end, which is, as Watson describes at the start of the story, quite horrendous and damaging, to say the least, to the reputations and lives of a great many powerful people in the country. However, what seems like a cut-and-dry mystery is in fact a critique on the English government’s treatment and neglect of its poor, orphaned, and abandoned children, left on the streets to fend for themselves, employing whatever means available to survive. Many become petty thieves and criminals or the victims of poverty or depravity. The novel sheds light on the government’s neglect and sometimes cruel treatment of orphaned and abandoned children as well as its many horrific consequences – the same government whose prime responsibility it is to protect and nurture them.
A fairly entertaining page turner with a very serious and disturbing conclusion, The House of Silk is a must read for Sherlock Holmes fans, despite not being written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I think he would have been proud of Anthony Horowitz for a job well done.
P.S. Is it bad that when I read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I picture Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and other characters of the successful British TV series even if their character descriptions in the novel don’t match??
The House of Silk (2011) – Anthony Horowitz
Little, Brown, and Company; 296 pages (TPB)
Personal rating: 2.5/5