Impressions off the back cover:
This might just be it. A typical Sherlock Holmes novel, yet not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. How often have we seen the dramatic entrance of a worried client with the charming housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, with the duo of Holmes and Watson in their seats by the fire? The reviews put on the back cover make me intrigued, and I can’t wait to get into this mystery.
My thoughts on the book:
I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan since the day I read The Hound of the Baskervilles. I have the entire collection of short stories and four novels written by Sir Conan Doyle. I had heard about other authors writing stories based on the famed detective, but when my friend did a review (unusual for him to be doing one) on the book The House of Silk, and it said the book to be a must read for any Sherlockian, I ordered a copy immediately. Having seen other covers of the book online, I felt this one was good, but one of the others was infinitely better. Then again, one cannot judge a book by the cover, especially a Sherlock Holmes one.
For any Sherlock fan, perhaps the first question about why this novel was missed out by Watson would be the first question that comes to mind. Anthony Horowitz addresses that question first by a prologue that shows Watson mulling the circumstances why this book wasn’t put to print by him, and why it is being written now. This one touch brings a smile to the reader, and I proceed on.
The difference between conjuring, observing and deduction… and the proper use of the third to solve a mystery; that is what set apart Sherlock Holmes from other detectives in crime fiction. It’s with this very aspect that Horowitz begins the first chapter, a deduction that leaves Dr. Watson speechless as always, and demanding explanation of how Holmes came to know of it. It is this very aspect that is spread throughout the book, with Holmes surprising Watson, and other characters with his delectable deductions.
The story gets its pace from these insights, and flows superbly. The plot revolves around a man in a flat cap, stalking the owner of an art gallery seeking revenge. The narration is excellent, with the English we are used to seeing from Conan Doyle, and very vivid descriptions of the setting, the characters and emotions. The wit of Sir Doyle is also quite efficiently mirrored in the comparison to Detective Lestrade, also a well-known character of the crime fiction series. We encounter the unofficial version of the police force; the gang of street urchins led by Wiggins and their characteristic tromp up the stairs of 221B Baker Street and the complaints of Mrs. Hudson to their presence in her house. I cannot but agree with my friend that their lives have been described brilliantly by Horowitz, and the line “Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child” was one that stood out very well, one page that I earmarked for its excellence.
The story moves seamlessly from character to character, and nothing seems out of place. Even references to well-known old cases of Holmes like A Study in Scarlet and The Red Headed League are snuck in without it seeming out of place. Horowitz even brings in Professor Moriarty to good effect.
The ending to the novel catches me off-guard and I applaud the author for this twist which I never expected, and couldn’t predict in any way before that. We also see two layers to Holmes’ character that perhaps aren’t evident in prior works, but ones that work very well.
I agree with my friend that this is a must read for any Sherlock Holmes fan. It is a novel delivered with a crispness and mystery that I associate easily and usually with a novel of the legendary detective and very everything just fits, be it language, description or character sketching. It is in every way quite close to what Conan Doyle might have produced, and it comes as no surprise to me that the Conan Doyle Estate has given this book a stamp of approval. Giving this a perfect ten would mean it is as good as the originals, but I find that one character in particular stood out from the start, and it showed that the character would play a very important part in the story, which is unlike the mystery of characters in Doyle’s plotting. So this is the only glitch I find that differentiates the story by the minutest margin. But still warrants the highest rating I can give for sure.
Title: The House of Silk
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Genre: Crime Fiction
Book ISBN: 9781409136361
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: INR 350
(’12, Dec 17)