Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Revisited: Anthony Horowitz' The House of Silk

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What is about Sherlock Holmes that people can't bear to see him die? His own creator pushed him down the Reichenbach Falls but then brought him back to life as the public clamour grew too strong to resist. Other writers have followed suit and have not allowed Holmes the comfort of bee-keeping but have rather continued putting him in one dangerous situation after another. In school, I read a novel about Holmes pitting his wits against that other Victorian who refuses to die - Jack the Ripper. Then in college, there was The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, a pastiche, where Holmes travelled to Tibet during his missing years. Two years back there was Partha Basu's deconstruction of the Holmes legend in The Curious Case of 221B and now I have read Anthony Horowitz' The House of Silk.




...so many old men with their lives behind them....

In The House of Silk, an old Watson waiting for the day when he'd meet his creator as well as his old friend, writes down one last case of his. A case so scandalous that he couldn't dare publish it at that time. In fact, he puts the papers in safe-keeping with instructions that they are to be opened only a hundred years later.



The year is 1890. A married Watson returns to 221 B as his wife, Mary, is away tending to a young boy whose governess at one time she happened to be. Holmes, as usual, has amazed Watson by his brilliant deductions when the house keeper announces that there is a gentleman by the name of Edward Carstairs to see them. Carstairs is in a nervous state. He explains that he is the junior partner in an Art Gallery. More than a year ago, the partners were approached by an American gentlemen by the name of Cornelius Stillman who wanted to open a museum in Boston. For this, he ordered a number of paintings, including four by John Constable. Unfortunately, before they could reach their destination, the paintings were destroyed in an audacious attack by the members of the Flat Cap gang, a gang made by migrant Irish in Boston so named because of their habit of wearing flat caps. An enraged, Stillman employed a detective agency to destroy the gang and especially its two leaders, the twins Rourke and Keelan. The detective, Bill McParland, was able to corner the gang and in the gun-fight that followed all the members of the gang were killed except for Keelan who not only managed to escape but also killed Stillman in revenge.

Now, Carstairs says, it seems that Keelan has come to England to kill him because a man wearing a flat cap has been following him around. Fearing for his life, Carstairs has come to Holmes. The next day, Carstairs sends them a telegram saying that somebody had broken inside his house and made off with some jewellery. Holmes and Watson travel to Wimbledon and find themselves in a domestic drama. Carstair's wife, Catherine, a young woman whom he had met while his voyage back from the US, is hated by his sister who claims that her mother killed herself because she couldn't bear to see Edward being made a fool of by Catherine. The case which Holmes was not liable to take too seriously assumes a sinister tone when a murder occurs... and then another. For the second murder, Holmes holds himself responsible and in his zeal to capture the culprit finds himself trapped, in jail, and death looming large over him. What began as a case involving a train dacoity now stinks so rotten that not even Holmes' brother Mycroft is able to do anything for him except advice him to remain off it.



The book had been on my wishlist since I read a review of it by Writer-on-Wheels and I am glad it turned out to be as good as the review promised it would be.... good in its pace and evocation of atmosphere as well as in the mystery. The only thing that I didn't like was the characterisation of Mycroft Holmes. I always thought of the two brothers as sharing a strong bond but in this book, Mycroft seems a little too concerned about saving his own skin.

Sherlock Holmes still rules because in a recent contest @ Pretty Sinister Books, John had an interesting quiz on the children in the Holmes canon. I am not a Sherlockian at all but with much burning of the midnight lamp was able to answer all the questions correctly barring one. That made me eligible for the second prize. Wow! Thank you Holmes and Thank you John.

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First Line: I have often reflected upon the strange series of events that led me to my long association with one of the most singular and remarkable figures of my age.

Title: The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publication Details: London: Orion, 2012
First Published: 2011
Source: Delhi Book Fair, 2013
Pages: 405

Other Books read of the same author: None

6 comments:

  1. Neeru - It's good to hear that, for the most part, you enjoyed this. I always wonder at Holmes' longevity. People still absolutely love him more than a hundred years after his creation. To me that's amazing.

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    1. Margot, I wonder if there is any other literary character who would endure for so long.

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  2. Will Poirot also appear someday?

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    1. Poirot. unfortunately, does not enjoy the status that Holmes does. Perhaps writers feel that only Christie could do justice to him.

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  3. I shall definitely have to take a look at this one, Neer. I had heard of it a while back but then forgot all about it. I'm not a big fan of Holmes pastiches - well, except for the books by Laurie King featuring Holmes and Russell - but I'm always curious to see what someone else has made of Holmes.

    Thanks for the reminder. :)

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    1. Yvette, I have the Laurie King somewhere on the shelves.

      I found this book pretty interesting and hope you like it too. Looking forward to your views on it.

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