In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’ hints at a deadly foe.
I’m posting slightly out of order- I actually read this before reading The Clockwork Scarab, which perhaps coloured my opinion of that book a little- only a little though, and mostly in regard to Mycroft. I just felt like I needed more time to mull over this book and sort out what I think about it.
This is the first book in a series by Anthony Horowitz, which is authorised by the Conan Doyle estate. I’m told this is a first, so I was expecting very good things. Plus, Horowitz has a reputation as a great writer, both of novels and screenplays.
Horowitz has done a good job with this book. It was quite quickly paced and deals with things that Conan Doyle wouldn’t have touched with a ten foot pole- Horowitz acknowledges this and owns it, which I think it great. In fact, it’s worked into the storyline- Watson is writing this with the intent to have it locked up for a hundred years, due to its content.
The central plot winds it’s way around, getting darker and darker. I sort of felt like it got lost at some points, but Horowitz, in true Conan Doyle style, pulled all the strings together at the last minute. The blurb made me think it would be set in Boston, which I found odd, but this isn’t at all the case- the time spent dealing with Boston is minimal and done by another character. Sometimes I just don’t understand publishers!
I didn’t see the ending coming… probably because I really didn’t want to think about it. It was tough and I liked that Watson and Holmes were both really affected by it. Thinking back on it, the signs were definitely there and I sort of had an inkling, but wrote it off. It definitely raised my opinion of this book, as before that it was heading for a “meh” review. Horowitz dealt with it with grace, though I would have liked to have found out what happened afterwards.
What didn’t I like about this book?
I didn’t like that Watson was characterised as at times stupid and pompous. The real Watson was there, I can’t argue that, but he didn’t feel the same. Sherlock was spot on, but Watson was a little bit off. I don’t agree with the reviewers who think this book is channelling the superhero, Robert Downey Jr. Holmes, but then again, I’m not a die hard Holmes fan and I liked the RDJ movies!
And, let’s face it, the image is nice.
I also felt like Horowitz tried to do a little too much, which made the book run longer than necessary. I was beginning to lose track of who people were, but it wasn’t as bad as other novels I’ve read recently. It comes in at 300 pages, which surprises me as it felt a lot longer than it was (I read it on my Kindle, so haven’t actually seen the physical edition).
I think a stern edit would have been good for ironing out some of the problems in this book and to fix some of the fact issues that really grated on me. A fine example of these problems is this line:
“It sometimes occurs to me now, having witnessed so many momentous changes across the years, that I should have described at greater length the sprawling chaos of the city in which I lived, perhaps in the manner of Gissing – or Dickens, fifty years before.”
This is written by Watson, supposedly in the early 20th Century. The story occurs in 1890. Gissing died in 1903 and Dickens in 1870. The timeline is wrong and I found it quite jarring.
This book has been rather difficult to review- I can’t quite pin down why I didn’t like it much, but I also kind of did like it. Does that even make sense? It felt like it was falling backwards but being dragged back up again by certain things, plus the mystery had me intrigued enough to continue. I don’t know that I’ll bother with the second book, Moriarty. There’s just not enough there to make me want to continue.