THE HOUSE OF SILK (a book review)

The House of Silk

A Sherlock Holmes Joint

We here at MojoFiction have quickly blown through several books lately (that’s about several more than usual), so we’re really proud of ourselves and we thought we’d post an extra book report or two. We’ve been reading some heady stuff lately in the department of science, philosophy, and history, so this time we decided to take a break and sit down with an old-fashioned mystery novel:

The House of Silk

In the universe of Sherlock Holmes, there have been a number of projects brought to the fore over the past few years, from a BBC revival, to two major films, to a deluge of novels either directly or indirectly about the major characters. With so much to choose from, why did we select The House of Silk? First of all, it was in hardcover and on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble. …And that pretty much sums it up.

We’ve actually read most of the old writings by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and we always liked the characters, Sherlock’s arrogance and wit, and Watson’s insights into the human condition. But more importantly, we’ve always liked the Victorian London setting, with its seemingly endless possibilities: gas lamps and dark alleys, horse-drawn carriages and street urchins, the industrial age and the Empire. But even amongst these symbols of the era, society itself isn’t much different from today, and author Anthony Horowitz wastes no time delving into the seedier side of civilization.

When art dealer Edmund Carstairs walks into Sherlock Holmes’s humble dwellings at 221b Baker Street, relaying a startling tale of theft and murder in America, the great detective assures him that it’s a simple matter and promises to help him resolve it. Mr. Carstairs is being threatened by the remaining member of an Irish-American gang that he believes wants revenge for an incident that took place in Boston and that Mr. Carstairs was unfortunately involved in. But, instead of violence, the mysterious gang member only robs the Carstairs residence one night and then disappears into the London fog. Unbeknownst to Holmes, the ensuing hunt for the criminal will take him far beyond a simple case of thievery, and into the dark corners of society that the authorities don’t want to acknowledge and others would rather pretend doesn’t exist. And at the center of everything is the House of Silk.

Following in the footsteps of Doyle, Anthony Horowitz tells the story from the perspective of Holmes’s faithful friend, Dr. John Watson. Dr. Watson believes the case to be so scandalous, that his manuscript recounting the tale has been locked up, at his request, for 100 years. Through the eyes of Watson, the author unveils, piece by piece, a complex mystery evolving on the fringes of London society. The plot unfolds as a comfortable pace, but it is never slow. The author finds the perfect pace at which to reveal each new clue, each new revelation that drives the case forward and keeps the reader turning to the next page. The prose feels natural and fluid, successfully taking on the character of Dr. Watson reminiscing on the sinister affair. Holmes’s singular, often insulting wit, is on full display, but doesn’t go over the top.  It fits with the character as Anthony Horowitz is presenting him.

The author also makes sure to include the presence of familiar characters, such as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, Inspector Lestrade, and the Baker Street Irregulars, all of whom play their part in the narrative.  No one is used just for show.

On the whole, The House of Silk is an enjoyable mystery novel that doesn’t tip its hand until the very end, and even then unexpected reveals abound. There is a dark edge throughout, and the suspense does not let up. Will it change your life? Probably not. But it’s a worthwhile ride for the fans of mystery novels.

No prior Sherlock Holmes experience is necessary.

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