Posts Tagged ‘The House of Silk’

Robert Lee Hall: Exit Sherlock Holmes

June 21, 2016

51d0C5nHaNL._AC_US160_I’m an incurable Holmes addict. Now that I know the canon thoroughly, I’ve begun to explore the imitators, and there have been plenty of writers who took Conan Doyle’s heroes and wrote stories of their own, extending the characters and the stories with varying degrees of success; I’ve reviewed several in this blog at different times, including Anthony Horowitz’s two novels, and the collection of stories about the rivals of Sherlock Holmes that dates from the 1970s.

Horowitz’s Moriarty takes as its premise the idea that the arch-villain did not perish in the confrontation with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls; so did this earlier novel. Although Conan Doyle did not originally intend either man to survive the fall, public pressure caused him to resurrect our hero after a number of years, by inventing a semi-plausible escape from death and an account of the intervening years, and if Holmes could have escaped death then surely so might his rival. And, whereas Horowitz focuses on Moriarty alone, to the exclusion of Holmes and Watson (and the great deception of some expectant readers) Robert Lee Hall brings us Holmes, but with a difference.

I’d never have come across this novel or known of its existence if I hadn’t been on holiday; it’s one of those books you come across in a holiday cottage, left for those holidaymakers without their own reading matter (or who’ve finished it all, like yours truly).

Apeing Conan Doyle’s style is difficult for a non-Victorian writer, as we find with Horowitz’s The House of Silk; Lee Hall begins well, quite convincingly, but pretty soon, after he’s got his plot under way, he lets go of careful attention to the style, and it rapidly becomes sub-par twentieth-century prose.

Watson, aware only that Moriarty is on the loose again and that Holmes must vanish because he is in imminent peril, finds himself investigating Holmes’ mysterious past and discovers that Holmes is not really who he seems to be, and that he has deceived Watson many times over the years of their friendship; it’s an attempt at a meta-narrative of Holmes’ life and career, and, lest I spoil the plot for anyone minded to try and track down a copy to read, I shan’t say too much other than mention a link to a writer contemporary of Conan Doyle’s, namely HG Wells, and a sideways glance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I’m glad I read it; it was compulsive, kept me engaged to the very end even as I kept finding faults and flaws in the style and language; it was a very interesting tangent to take on Holmes and Watson and their relationship, and, in the end, I could only wish that it had been rather better written.

There is the canon – the sacred texts from the real Watson via Conan Doyle; there are the rivals in similar vein, and there are the imitators. With all that, I think I have a few more years of fun and entertainment to come…


Anthony Horowitz: Moriarty

October 24, 2014

9781409109471Sometimes I feel like a traitor, reading Sherlock Holmes stories that are not part of the official canon, but then Horowitz does have the imprimatur of the Conan Doyle estate. But do I need an excuse? First, a warning: if you intend to read this book, there may be details mentioned in this post that you don’t want to know, so read with caution…

First of all, I must confess to feeling a little deceived, in that Holmes is not really in this book, except for an additional short story at the end which is a sort of coda to the main story. There are gaps of time in the canon, a number of years which elapse after the Reichenbach falls episode in The Final Problem, and Holmes’ reappearance in The Empty House; perhaps I had naively imagined Horowitz treating us to some of Holmes’ adventures during that hiatus. Certainly there are lots of promising possibilities. And, as the narrator points out, the explanations offered by Watson for Holmes’ demise are distinctly dubious. Other writers have added stories, and I have written elsewhere about The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. But, after the excellent House of Silk, Horowitz has struck out in a different direction.

The Napoleon of crime, Professor Moriarty, is engaged in a struggle to the death with a rival and interloper from the United States who wants to annex his patch: nineteenth century turf wars. We are introduced to an interesting pairing trying to make sense of various events in London: a detective from Pinkerton’s agency in the US and a London police inspector, Athelney Jones, who appears in several of Conan Doyle’s original stories, and who strives to emulate Holmes’ detective methods, either with success or failure, depending on your perspective.

The writing is good, the yarn is a decent one. It’s very definitely a twenty-first century story – far more violence and gory description than Conan Doyle would have been allowed to inflict on a Victorian magazine audience. An American narrator shifts the focus, language and style somewhat. And, because Holmes is absent, I felt that there wasn’t that much real detective work going on – Athelney Jones is a devotee, certainly, but a poor imitation of the real thing. I got a real sense of how important Watson is to the original stories, from his absence, too.

It’s Horowitz’s second foray into the field and, ultimately, although I really enjoyed it, especially the several twists at the end, I like the House of Silk rather better as a supplementary yarn because Holmes and Watson are there, and Horowitz did extend and develop their characters well. Both stories are far more daring than anything Conan Doyle wrote, but The House of Silk felt rather more immediately plausible, and therefore convincing. I shall re-read it soon, to pick up on what I’m sure I overlooked as I was being swept along by the plot. Once I have prised it back from the clutches of my daughters, who have formed a disorderly queue to get their hands on it…

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