Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review - Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
Published by: Forge
Publication Date: November 1st, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 294 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Watson has always hesitated sharing this story. He felt it was too shocking and would destroy the fabric of society. But as a world war rages he once again puts pen to paper. Holmes is gone and he feels this story needs to be told, though he will request that it is withheld for one hundred years so that hopefully society will not be as scandalized. The adventure started as many did, as Holmes and Watson sat in front of the fire of 221B Baker Street. A Mr. Carstairs arrived wishing for their assistance. He was an art dealer who inadvertently got on the wrong side of a thuggish Irish gang in Boston called "The Flat Cap Gang." He has reason to believe one of the two ringleaders has followed him to London to exact revenge. Holmes and Watson quickly resolve his problem as the man, the supposed Keelan O'Donaghue, ends up dead and the case is closed. But in actuality it is just the beginning. In finding "Keelan O'Donaghue" one of the Baker Street Irregulars has gone missing. Usually this wouldn't be a cause for concern, but there's something about the way young Ross reacted to seeing Mr. Castairs at the crime scene that has Holmes wondering. As Holmes digs further into the case of Ross he starts to hear mention of "The House of Silk." Holmes is certain that if he could only find out who or what this organization is that everything would fall into place. But even Mycroft warns him to back away, and soon Holmes is in grave danger. Whomever they may be, The House of Silk doesn't want Holmes exposing them and eliminating one detective, no matter how famous, is a small price to pay in their eyes.

There is no doubt that Anthony Horowitz is talented. If his only legacy was Foyle's War he'd be good as gold. But he also helped adapt Midsomer Murders for television as well as Poirot, not to mention the wonderful mini-series Injustice he created, they are all wonderful fare. But for me he's polarizing. For every right move he makes, he makes a wrong one, like marrying Sam to that numskull Adam. That sin alone deserves some sort of punishment, like being slapped silly with a large fish. Sam was meant to end up with Andrew! But then again, Julian Ovenden doesn't seem to be able to catch a break, he loses Sam and then Lady Mary on Downton Abbey chucks him for Matthew Goode. So for all my love of Anthony Horowitz, there's some hate in there as well, and a lot of that hate is now centered on The House of Silk. This predictable mess of a mystery doesn't deserve to be endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate, it needs to be burned in effigy as a crime against the legacy of Sherlock Holmes. There are so many good books out there that are reimaginings and continuations of Holmes it baffles me that this is the one given the seal of approval, that little mark of Sherlock in his deerstalker hat with the shadow of Conan Doyle and his walrusy mustache. The most mind-boggling thing about The House of Silk is how Horowitz seems to purposefully set out to undermine all other non-canonical books. It's not enough that he's "official" but that everyone else has to be wrong. He is forcibly trying to change every preconception other writers have given Holmes over the years. Holmes doesn't outlive Watson, Mycroft is also equally indestructible, living to an old age despite his corpulence, which Horowitz takes glee in elucidating. Horowitz is the new voice of Holmes and he won't let there be any ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Horowitz spends too much time randomly answering questions that have popped up over the years without regard to anything but his whim. Holmes wasn't at Watson's wedding, Watson had three children in his second marriage, Mary died of typhoid fever, and on and on, just throwing out little tidbits that will appeal to those with an obsessive desire to know everything about these characters. Yet these little glimpses would have worked had Horowitz proved he actually knew Holmes and his canon. It becomes quickly apparent that Horowitz is a dilettante when it comes to Holmes so therefore all these little insights come across as self-indulgent crap as he tries to leave his mark on a greater writer's legacy. The canonical issues would drive any true fan to distraction. While I wouldn't say I'm an obsessive, I would say that the least he could have done was got it right in order to earn that badge of honor from the Conan Doyle Estate. The scenario that drove me most round the bend was when Horowitz repeated almost verbatim the scene of Holmes baffling Watson with his "mind-reading" abilities that was originally in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" but was reused in "The Adventure of the Resident Patient." It wasn't reusing this scene for a third time that annoyed me most, it was what came after. One of the key parts of this original scenario was Watson and his newly framed picture of General Gordon and his contemplation of framing his portrait of Henry Ward Beecher to make a matching set. Yet in the bizzaro world of Horowitz where things like canon don't matter, the portrait of General Gordon came with the flat! Excuse me? Antony Horowitz broke canon, one that was doubly stated, just so that Holmes could have a throw-away line about how the walls of 221B Baker Street don't actually reflect him because he didn't chose any of the hangings. Where did I put that giant fish...

But canonical issues aside (yeah I agree that sounds unlikely), but seriously, even if we are able to do this, it can't change the fact that Horowitz isn't able to capture the voice of Conan Doyle through Watson. He isn't able to do what a children's author did with a story about mice. Wrap your mind around that if you will. Here Watson is a whiny little bitch. I kid you not. In the canonical books he's all stoic and I'll grab my service revolver and follow you into the gates of hell, while being a little melodramatic about the whole thing, and maybe once or twice staying by the fire to tend to his war wounds. Here it's all whining and whinging and oh his aches and pains. I actually wanted to punch him in the shoulder and be like, "how's your wound now bitch?" Yet it's not just about his overnumerous physical problems that I take umbrage, it's the fact that Watson is so overly loquacious and verbose, leading to the whole book feeling overwritten. If I ever thought that Watson was long winded before, I take it all back. Bring back the real Watson and get rid of this imposter! This upstart who thinks it's cool to mention all his old cases again and again. Guess what? Watson doesn't do that in actuality, he only mentions old cases occasionally, and if he does mention other cases, it's ones we've never read about, he's never so self-referential and meta. Gaw, make it stop. Yet it doesn't stop. The sloppiness with the canon and with Watson even carries over to all aspects of The House of Silk and it's writing. The book's internal chronology doesn't even work! How could Carstairs marry his wife six months before he even met her?

Repeatedly saying to myself "but if Horowitz had just..." isn't going to change anything. It's not going to magically make an editor who happens to be fluent in the canon of Sherlock Holmes appear and fix the book, because there is no way to fix this book. And there's a part of me that thinks a lot of the sloppiness might have been done on purpose. That maybe the muddle was there for a reason. At one point there's a meta aside wherein the characters discuss the tangle the two cases are making and how they seem to be getting more entwined versus less. Yes, this did piss me off, this signalling that Horowitz knew how he was infuriating me. But more importantly it shows that the muddle was on purpose. So, why would an author purposely muddle his book? Because he couldn't be bothered to create a half decent mystery and is throwing as many fish at you of the herring variety so that you won't notice this deficiency. Guess what "Tony." It. Did. Not. Work. Your book is 294 pages. You introduced the character of Ross on page 52, less than ten pages later, on page 61 I had the entire mystery solved. I had to read a further 233 pages of obfuscations and interferences and Watson's whining to have my deduction validated. Seriously, this isn't how you write a mystery. You don't read about a quarter of a book and go, oh, so this, this, and this happened, that's it. A book shouldn't be as easy to solve as a mystery on TV which can usually be deduced by the casting choices. I wanted something, I don't know, that actually made me invested in the book, that made me want to flip to the next page, that wasn't just the desperate need to make it end.

As for the mystery itself... we are supposed to find it shocking. That, after all, is the gimmicky reason that Watson withheld it for one hundred years, despite the fact that Holmes's arrest and various other incidents would have made the papers and would have therefore had to have been included in the original canon but are somehow overlooked. And the saddest thing is that the mystery isn't shocking. The book seems to be nothing more than a reflection of the British press of today. Because this is nothing more than the cover-up of another sexual abuse scandal wherein high ranking government officials are using orphans and street kids to satisfy their disgusting pedophiliac desires. Seriously, google "child sexual abuse UK" and there are over a dozen notable cases of these "rings" uncovered just within the past five or so years! Yes, this is horrifying. Yes this should be shocking, but the sad truth is that with it constantly being on our television screens and in our newspapers we have become desensitized to it but at the same time hyper-aware so that I could solve the mystery of The House of Silk in a matter of minutes. There have been other narratives of similar cases in books, films, and television. Heck, even the Inspector Morse spin-off Endeavour's pilot was about such a sex ring. This is sadly something that happens in the world, and if it's happening now it must have been happening than, so all in all, not much a mystery, just a sad reflection of reality, which most of us could do without when we are reading to escape. Plus, this has added a whole creepy undertone to the Baker Street Irregulars that I could have done without. Though the final thought I am left with is, would this case really have effected Holmes so? Would he have been moved? This Holmes was, the canonical Holmes, that's highly unlikely.


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