Saturday 10 December 2016

Review: Crime: The House Of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Orion Books, £18.99

Published 06/11/2011 | 06:00

This is a new Sherlock Holmes novel written by the best-selling young adult writer Anthony Horowitz at the request of the Conan Doyle Estate.

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Horowitz is an inspired choice for the task. Best known for his Alex Rider spy thrillers which have sold 12 million copies, his involvement may lead many of these young readers to the original Holmes stories. He also has written some of the most successful crime series for British TV, such as Midsomer Murders and Poirot.

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 to an Irish mother and a father of Irish descent and Horowitz has emphasised the Irish connection in his story.

When we imagine Holmes, images of British actors like Peter Cushing and Basil Rathbone in their deerstalkers hover into view. And of course Holden Caulfield never went anywhere without his deerstalker, a clothing item singular to Holmes, who also has a weakness for the occasional 7pc solution of cocaine.

With the success of the films starring Robert Downey Jr, Holmes is certainly in vogue again.

The Horowitz tale begins in November 1890, with London in the grip of a merciless winter. Holmes hasn't been in the best of health and Dr Watson goes to 221b Baker Street to help out his old friend.

No sooner have they feasted on scones and cream than their next investigation arrives in the form of Edmund Carstairs, an art dealer, who tells Holmes of the theft in America of a shipment of valuable paintings by a notorious Boston-Irish flat-cap gang led by the O'Donoghue twins. The gang has been wiped out in the aftermath and now a man with a flat cap is stalking Carstairs in London and he fears for his life.

The O'Donoghue twins were born in Sackville Street in Dublin, we are told, a neat parallel since Holmes's great adversary, Professor Moriarty, also had an Irish name.

Holmes and Watson are helped in the quest for the gang member in London by the Irregulars, the band of street urchins employed by Holmes to gather information. But one of the boys is killed and events quickly take a very sinister turn.

The O'Donoghue saga is the more interesting of the twin tales but appears to come to a conclusion quite early on. We then follow the white-ribbon quest of the murdered lost boys.

In football parlance, this is a book of two halves -- the Carstairs/ O'Donoghue story and the lost boys/white-ribbon story. Conan Doyle wrote only four novels but 56 short stories and what Horovitz seems to have done here is tried to weld his two new stories together. One has mystery and menace, the other pathos -- the mixture doesn't quite work.

Horowitz is very faithful to Conan Doyle's creations. But although faithfulness is to be admired it can sometimes lead to a lack of excitement. Is it as good as the originals? Not quite, but the complex plot and detail are very much in the spirit of Sir Arthur.

Neil Donnelly

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