As the popularity of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes shows no signs of losing traction anytime soon, Darragh McGrath reviews two continuation novels, written by English author Anthony Horowitz.
It is safe to say there are very few people in the world today who have not been exposed to some form of Sherlock Holmes media at one point in their lives. From the original written works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to the countless adaptations for stage and screen; including the internationally acclaimed modern day adaptation starting actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular detective.
In 2011 Anthony Horowitz OBE was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write an all new adventure for the dynamic duo of deduction. The final product, House of Silk was more than well received, becoming a Times Top 10 Best seller and going on to be sold in more than thirty-five countries around the world. 3 years later another original Holmes adventure penned by Horowitz was published: Moriarty, which as even the most casual reader will be able to guess focuses on the infamous adversary of the super sleuth, Professor James Moriarty in the aftermath of their “Final Problem” confrontation. I read both novels over the Christmas holidays, initially as a long-term Holmes fan wishing to see what a famous modern writer could do when given the reins of one of fiction’s most beloved heroes. I can happily say that the award winning author of such crime series as Alex Rider and Midsomer Murders did the detective proud.
House of Silk is narrated, as in the tradition of the source-material, from the perspective of Dr John Watson. Horowitz has managed to recreate the voice of the world’s greatest detective’s closest friend and colleague with such seamlessness that other critics have said they would not be able to tell the difference between his words and those of Conan Doyle himself. This description could not be more accurate, as never once did I see the 2011 publication as some form of tribute piece or fan-fiction. To me this was as authentic a Holmes adventure as any author could have produced without the aid of a time machine. The story uses many of the elements seen in the classics (it is obvious that self-proclaimed Holmes fan Horowitz did his research) with various famous cases mentioned from The Red Headed League to The Hound of the Baskervilles and beloved characters such as the brilliant brother Mycroft Holmes, trusty landlady Mrs Hudson, bumbling Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade and loveable street urchin of the “Baker Street Irregulars” Wiggins. Fortunately the novel does not rely on these references alone (otherwise it would have been in danger of becoming little more than a 400 page book of spoilers). with a darker story than was ever observed in Doyle’s works, a lot more murders and even showing the poverty and deprivation that ravaged 19th century London in a way the original creator never did.
It is difficult for me to choose a favourite from the two stand-alone novels as each have their own individual merits. However, it can be said that Moriarty provides an interestingly unique twist on the classics that made the mystery genre what it is today. Writing a Sherlock Holmes story without Sherlock Holmes in favour of his arch nemesis “The Napoleon of Crime” was undoubtedly a large task. Yet Horowitz delivers a book that is genuinely difficult to put down (I found myself reading the second half in one evening) filled with more references to the original adventures and expanding upon the many interesting minor characters to be found within the texts, this second tribute is every bit as dark and mysterious as its predecessor. With a grand plot twist that just might have you scratching your head and going “Wow! So does that mean?” Spoiler: our beloved university and Mr George Boole even get a little mention when exploring the Professor’s background.
To conclude this pair of expertly written mysteries, set beautifully against the classic backdrop of 19th century London are equally a treat for both die hard Holmes fans and those who would perhaps like to start following the published adventures of the great detective but want to try reading a more recent interpretation first. Trust me by the time you reach the final chapter of the first you’ll already be wearing a deerstalker hat.