I must confess that Sherlock Holmes was one of my early teens’ literary crush (just after I graduated from The Little house in the prairie, and The Little Princess – don’t ask how I landed there, but just assume that I didn’t quite understand the degree of vice and violence implied). 221b Baker Street was a magical address in my mind for months (years?). I devoured every short story with incredible enjoyment and obsession and I did shed a few tears, just like a Victorian reader of 1893, when Holmes “died” at the Reichenbach falls.
Needless to say, such an early influence has left some scars. You don’t need to bother asking why more than every third book I read is a mystery. Or why a family member would buy me a book about the real-life model for Sherlock Holmes. And of course, I couldn’t miss a mystery claiming to be the first officially endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate.
But revisiting your childhood favorites is a dangerous game. How much of my young enthusiasm will have paled after reading other books? How much did I miss from my first reading, both in undertones and in weaknesses? How much, simply, did I grow out of Sherlock Holmes? I’m not so sure I want to know.
So my impressions of the House of Silk are, of course, the result of mixed feelings. Feelings of comfort when I find myself in familiar bearings. Horowitz takes great lengths to rebuild Homes’ world in details, all linked to many adventures of the original version. All the familiar characters are there, I would even say “true to life” and the writing is smooth and plausible for Conan Doyle’s usual late Victorian fare. The London fog is suitably thick, nothing of the atmosphere is amiss. Horowitz carves a room for his own plot within the time-line of the other stories and justifies that the story wasn’t told together with the others by the shocking revelations about some London well-connected people that it would imply.
And yet… there were enough irksome points to prevent me from having a fun ride all the way. First, the plot. Well, I’m not the only one to point this out, but the crux of the mystery here is just one of those late Victorian clichés that abounds nowadays. So much so that I guessed right from the first third of the story what it was all about. And a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery without a baffling denouement is a bit bland, even when you’ve got the Holmes-Watson dialogues right. The House of Silk is told during World War One by an ageing Watson, who looks back with a 20C mind (I would even say a 21st century’s, but that would be too harsh on Horowitz’ overall good job) upon his earlier adventures. He (and Holmes) expresses regrets and lost illusions about the late Victorian society, valuable points for a historian but confessions that have hardly their place within a Conan Doyle pastiche. The House of Silk has a dark, sexual and graphic under-tone that belongs more to the abundant Jack the Ripper literature rather than to Conan Doyle’s rather innocent deductive investigations.
For a far more clever view on the book than mine (she formulates my vague feelings a lot better than me), check out The Little Professor’s review!