Sunday, June 07, 2015

The House of Silk - Book Review

One of the greatest regrets I've had as a fan of the detective genre is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote too few books. While others may argue that his books took immense plotting and were quite complex, the fact remains that his entire body of work of the Sherlock Holmes series can be completed in a week - and that's a real tragedy!

Like most kids who liked to read in that decade, I finished the abridged version when I was in school. Then I took up the complete works while in college. After that, it has been individual re-reads whenever the urge came up, but the regret has remained. How awesome would it have been if there would have been a hundred titles of Sherlock Holmes mysteries!! While both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie have over 80 books each, Sir Doyle only has a couple dozen.

So when GoodReads announced that the series was being revived by the estate of Sir Arthur Doyle via a completely new Whodunnit written by Anthony Horowitz, it immediately went onto my To-Read list there.

It isn't easy for an estate to capitalise on the original author's name by bringing aboard a co-author. Often, it undermines the entire series and while it may spin money for the immediate future, it kills the brand value big time! Sidney Sheldon, one of the world's most celebrated fiction authors passed away a few years ago, and almost immediately a co-author Tilly Bagshawe was brought on board. The first book came out really quick, and as any fan would do - especially in the angst of losing a favourite author, I brought home a copy. They killed it. Completely. And not in the positive sense of the term that's being used by the young nowadays. They killed it with a hatchet. Chopped it into pieces and destroyed all the good feel I had about the estate continuing the legacy of that great master of fiction. Sheldon was a master of the different elements comprising a novel, and the new author trivialised it! And I'm not going to read another Sheldon book that comes with a co-author. Ever. To make up for the horribleness of the new book, I re-read the entire Sheldon series and sympathised with the great man. 
James Patterson has made it a factory; he probably writes a couple of storylines and spreads it around to his co-authors, who do the donkey work and the books come out like absolute clockwork! The guy has churned out 140 books in his writing career - of which 120 came in the last 15 years. That's 8 books a year! Beat that. Yes, many of his recent books have been utter trash, just being written out of contractual obligations with publishers. But the fact remains that he's killed any love folks may have for books that came out with co-authors! Making money, yes. Tons of it. But there no longer is any urge left to pick up a new title from James Patterson when its announced. The initial books were real potboilers - Alex Cross, Harry Bosch, really good characters were built. And then squandered with half cooked storylines and horrible writing.

So yes, The House of Silk, for me, came with its share of apprehensiveness, especially because the writer himself has mostly written youth fiction before.

But he totally killed it! In the right way this time around :)

It is mighty difficult to leave aside one's writing style and become someone else - that too, a stalwart like Sir Doyle. So what Horowitz did is lend a little shadow of himself to the master, and the result has bettered the tone of the narrator - Dr Watson. 

The original Sherlock Holmes novels were all crisp, to the point, and seldom had any divergences from the main plot. They chugged along straight and non-stop like a train carrying an army regiment. House of Silk, however, changes that a bit; and it reads superbly well for that change. Dr Watson introduces the book to us, writing many years after Sherlock has passed (passed after his resurrection and all; passed for real). He reminiscences of the mysteries that haven't been told by him, and picks this out as one of the best, which he couldn't tell earlier because the story was too notorious for that time! And lo - there is an instant connect the reader has with the gap in the books. Genius! 
And Horowitz gets Watson to tell us of feedback that he's received from people over the years, wanting him to explore in better detail the characters and the locations in which the mysteries are set. He agrees to do that from this book on, and behold - Horowitz's writing style is juxtaposed on the ramrod narration style of Sir Doyle, without appearing jarring :) Superb, really.

So what this does is to make the book read longer than the usual mysteries of Holmes. Characters are better formed, descriptions are more eloquent, there are more turns in the plot than usual, and the plot begins on one continent and ends on another - which is rare in the old Holmes books. At the end of the book, the author tells us about how this book came about, and he mentions that the publisher came straight and gave him a mission of writing a book that runs to some 300 pages. So kudos to the publishers for having a clear vision in mind too!

But the way Holmes goes about his work is unchanged. His unbelievable powers of observation are brought to the fore subtly, much like in all of his earlier books, and there is a sense of familiarity which the reader is presented with. The mystery has a lot of depth, and all the characteristics of a Sherlock Holmes novel - An Estate, Skeletons in the Closet, Poisons, Sudden deaths, English Gentry, The Baker Street Irregulars, and several Red Herrings. After the immense popularity of the TV Series, Horowitz added in a few scenes for Mycroft Holmes (who only appeared in Four Sherlock novels), and they come up real well. But the real star is the guest appearance of Prof Moriarty in a strange twist in the tale, setting up a premise for a second novel!

Go Read! I'm off to read Moriarty :)

1 comment:

strategos said...

This might help :D