THE GAME’S AFOOT… It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston.
As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society itself… Sherlock Holmes is back with all the nuance, pace and powers of deduction that make him the world’s greatest and most celebrated detective.
Many years ago, my father introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – not in the flesh mind, I’m not quite that old – and his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. As an impressionable teenager I lapped up the adventures of the pipe smoking, slipper wearing, Stradivarius playing detective and his loyal companion and biographer Dr John Watson. I couldn’t get enough. Who could ever forget The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and my favourite A Study in Scarlet.
A few years down the track my father – yes, he introduced me to a lot of things as a kid! – sat me down one winter’s day and we watched a double bill of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) and the comedic genius of Will Hay, it was a real father/son moment. I have never forgotten that day, the rain was lashing against the window, mum had prepared a lovely array of snacks and we sat there, together, watching Rathbone solve the unsolvable and Will Hay play the role of a cheerful police officer. From that moment on I wanted to be either a detective or a comedian – alas I’ve failed at both!!
The House of Silk arrived on my desk a few weeks ago and I can’t tell you how excited I was – I was like a kid waiting to get up on Christmas morning – and I struggled to contain my delight that The Conan Doyle estate had given their blessing to a new Sherlock Holmes novel. Anthony Horowitz, perhaps better known for Foyle’s War and his numerous kids books had put quill to paper and written in the style of the master.
By the time I’d finished the very first chapter I was hooked, immersed in an era where, opium was the drug of choice – for those who could afford it – skulduggery, murder rife and a detective seemingly up against the impossible and dare I say it insolvable. Staying true to Conan Doyle’s inimitable style, Horowitz has done a magnificent job with the narrative, especially bringing to life Watson’s role as the affable sidekick who suddenly finds himself the centre of attention. It’s incredibly moreish and a prime example of a book – and story – you do not wish to end but when I did, I reached the dénouement with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.
In fact although I briefly touched on it earlier – watching films in winter – this is an ideal winter novel. Sitting by a log fire, logs cracking and breaking the silence as you gorge on the wonderful and enveloping prose, you simply can’t beat a veritable winter warmer like this. Throughout the novel I couldn’t help but imagine Rathbone and Bruce talking to me, Bruce the bumbling sidekick and Rathbone the confident and mysterious detective who always appears to have a trick up his sleeve. But that’s the great thing about books; they allow us all to imagine our favourite stars in the leading roles. Some may prefer Jeremy Brett to Basil Rathbone, it’s all subjective.
The story development is genius and flows unhindered, often surprising the reader with a plot twist here and there, no more so than the final pages where the twists and turns come thick and fast, especially when we discover the true identity of The House of Silk. To be frank it astonished me and I was completely taken aback with its thrilling revelation. I really hadn’t thought the book would go down that particular route and the reveal a complete surprise.
For me the highlight of any Sherlock Holmes novel is the way Conan Doyle – and now Horrowitz – gave voice to Sherlock’s deductive powers. I sat, in awe, as the detective gave his reasoning and calculations as he figured out the impossible. The House of Silk will not disappoint on any level.
Characterisation is faultless and Horowitz teases us with an appearance from Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, Lestrade comes across positively and not portrayed as the bumbling fool I expected him to be and of course there’s Mrs Hudson. Although she doesn’t play a big role in the book she’s there or thereabouts, ensuring that 221b Baker Street runs like clockwork, what more could you ask from the long serving housekeeper?
The House of Silk is a brilliant and engaging read with a sumptuous prose that gives and gives. It will tease and delight and is without doubt a fitting nod to arguably one of the great British writers of our time who gave us the most prolific of all detectives. Wonderful – 5 out of 5.
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