Man vs Bookshelf: Horowitz’s Holmes

This entry is part 44 of 62 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

The game is afoot.

Well, the blog is afoot.

Another few days have slipped by. Six between me finishing The City trilogy and the two Horowitz Sherlock Holmes books.

The time breezed by, and I can’t believe I am already back at the keyboard typing another blog. Will there never be any rest for this wicked soul?

Yes, there will, but not for another 140 odd books.

So, while we’re still right in it with this challenge, let’s get on with this week’s blog…

A brief note on Anthony Horowitz

You will know, if you’ve read the first or previous blog in this series, that my first book for it was by Anthony Horowitz.

It was where the blogging began and it also saw the birth of my ‘author of book and me’ segments.

Of course, having already done that, I don’t want to spend time going over it again. It’s not necessary. Especially when yet more Horowitz books approach before this challenge is gone.

If you wish to know my thoughts, feelings and experiences with Horowitz, why not check them out here?

For those who have done (or won’t do) that, let’s do something new. Talking not about an author, but about a character. Albeit, a character many do not even realise is fictional.

Let’s look at my relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes and Me

Who are the best-known creations in English literature?

The most recent example would be Harry Potter. A creation who exploded into a worldwide obsession. One more popular than any character that proceeded him.

Before Harry, there was Bond, James Bond, the super suave English Spy created back in 1953 by Ian Fleming. A character with more charisma than Harry Potter and another who is known around the world.

But before both these characters. Before we even hit the 20th century, there was another. A giant of English literature. One who would become so popular he would ingrain himself in the dialect and culture of Great Britain.

I am talking about, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes’ position in our collective consciousness at this point is huge. So huge, the phrase ‘alright Sherlock’ is often cast out by many who aren’t even aware who they are referencing.

I was no different. I had ideas about who Sherlock was long before I read a Holmes book or saw the great detective on film or TV.

My first experience with Sherlock Holmes came when I was in year ten. For those who don’t know – 14 years old. We read The Hound of the Baskervilles as part of our GCSE coursework.

I didn’t enjoy it. Not because the story was no good. Instead, it was a refusal to enjoy anything I had to read for school. Having not reread the book since I can’t reassess that original opinion. One day I will.

Guy Ritchie gave me my next Holmes experience in his 2009 film. Featuring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, the film was good at the time but is no reflection on the source material. Whatever Ritchie himself might say.

Of course, I didn’t know this until I moved onto the original stories.

The Books themselves.

I have a strange need to watch or consume fiction in release order.

This makes sense for series like Harry Potter or Breaking Bad. Shows the writers want us to watch from beginning to end. Not so much for shows utilising stand-alone episodes – like Doctor Who.

In the world of literature, the Sherlock Holmes stories are a Doctor Who, not a Breaking Bad.

I can’t pick stories at random though. I couldn’t find the best rated Holmes Story and start there. I had to go in publication order. So that was what I did. Starting with a Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. I then read all 12 stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes before stopping for… whatever reason. And, on the whole, I did enjoy them.

Not a rule follower

What I liked about these stories is Conan Doyle did not seem to follow the model of writers of his era.

Books of this time tend to be long, bloated, flowery. They contain little action and are never fast paced.

Doyle’s tales are nothing like this. They are short and snappy. They get straight into the tale and flash through the action. The descriptions are light but the characters are interesting. The story is the focus but the setting still stands out.

They were clever, well written, and it was easy to see why they had become so popular.

Most fascinating though, was how Doyle flaunted the standard mystery writing rules.

Aside from a lack of murders these tales also commit a mystery story cardinal sin.

This being the readers inability to feel they could have worked out the mystery themselves, had they been a little cleverer.

Supposedly this is what makes mystery stories so interesting to us normals. The thought that we could have solved them ourselves.

Yet, in Sherlock Holmes, this is never possible. He knows things we cannot know and, even worse, he keeps information to himself. Withholding it until he thinks it suitable to let us know what he has deduced.

Reading back through any of the stories in Sherlock Holmes, it would not be possible to work out the answer for ourselves.

But Holmes gets a free pass. Is this right? Probably not, but I guess we’ll have to let him off.

After all, he is a living (fictional) legend.

The House of Silk & Moriarty

I have written a lot about Sherlock Holmes as a character. About Arthur Conan Doyle, as his original writer, before getting on to the reason we are here. Anthony Horowitz’s two Sherlock Holmes books.

Our journey so far has been important thought. We need to see how faithful Horowitz is to the Holmes Cannon. How he imitated style and tone and character and setting. This we will do. But first…

The Stories

Were, in a word, excellent.

The House of Silk

The first novel – House of Silk – is a classic Holmes and Watson story – albeit longer.

A client arrives and relays his long story to Holmes and Watson, before asking for their help. Holmes and Watson go to the client’s house where Holmes immediately works everything out. Keeping it to himself.

In a Doyle tale, Holmes would tell us all what was what, after visiting the house. Not so for Horowitz, who wants more from The House of Silk.

So, from that client’s opening tale, Holmes discovers a deeper, darker mystery. One which takes the rest of the book to solve, before we loop back to where it all began.

The reveal to both mysteries is unpredictable and exciting. I enjoyed lying in bed and reading Holmes explain what had happened. Hearing it all come together. In many ways, this is the most important aspect of any mystery.

But The House of Silk has more. Horowitz has crafted a story that is well paced and engaging all the way through.

This was especially pleasing to me because of the writer. If you read the Horowitz and Me section of my Horowitz Horror review, you will know I go backwards and forwards on what I think about his writing.

In some of the Alex Rider books, I find the prose slow, and difficult at points. But, in many others, it is whip-sharp and with no wastage.

There was no wastage in The House of Silk book, either. The plot flowed well and everything was focused on the mystery at hand. No story baggage.

The characters, too, were well crafted. Of course, Holmes and Watson were already well-established characters – as was Lestrade, so they were easy.

But the new characters carried the same gothic extravagance as in the original stories. They were all believable, interesting and memorable, filling out the Holmesian world brilliantly.

So with a good mystery, good story, good pace, and good characters. We had an excellent book from start to finish.

Moriarty

Most of what I have said of The House of Silk is true of Moriarty.

It is another fast-paced story that keeps you engaged throughout. It never slows down or drags and I was not bored at any point, only excited to see how it would turn out.

When it did end, the reveal of the mystery was once again unpredictable, and delivered with excellence. A great job.

So why separate Moriarty from The House of Silk? Ah, well, while this story carries the same style, tone, and pace as its predecessor, there are changes. Here Horowitz has tried something risky. Moving away from the standard formula Holmes lovers have come to expect.

The biggest change is the stark lack of Holmes and Watson, who did not appear in this Sherlock Holmes book.

I confess this made me sceptical about how much I would enjoy the novel. Though I still looked forward to reading, if only for its name. Moriarty. A book featuring a lot of Moriarty could only be a good thing.

So the novel begins with the dead body of Moriarty on a slab… Being set right after the Final Problem. After the supposed death of Holmes and Moriarty.

Instead, the story gives us Althelny Jones. Inspector from Scotland Yard and previous bit part character in The Sign of the Four. Plus Chase something. American Pinkerton detective.

The other big change here is there is no client, as such. United by Moriarty’s body, the detectives team up to stop a new gangster. An American who aims to take the streets of London.

This creates a story with different motivations to standard Holmes stories. Yet it still works within Doyle’s style. Still gives us a gripping mystery tales we are invested in from the off.

Yes, Holmes and Watson weren’t here. There was no client spending half the story telling us a story in which they do speech. But it still felt like a Holmes mystery. One with plenty of twists and turns. And, as I have said before, a reveal and explanation as satisfying as that of any Holmes tale.

Is it Doyley enough?

Horowitz tells us in his The House of Silk notes how he worked hard to emulate Arthur Conan Doyle. Both in style and in the way the story unfolds, and he managed this perfectly.

Length aside, I could have believed these books had been written by the great writer himself. And it was a pleasure to get lost in what felt like new works of his.

Horowitz clearly worked hard on getting this way. The language was spot on, as well as the settings and the people. He even went so far as to use offensive racial terminology that would be found in a Doyle book, but is not okay today. A brave move, but one which was true to form.

More, please?

Here we have two fantastic stories that were a pleasure to read and which I would happily pick up and read again.

It is my sincere hope that Horowitz picks up his 1890s pen and pens another Horowitz novel, though I think we may be waiting a long time for this. He has since moved on to writing Bond books and, should the pattern continue, he will no doubt on to writing Harry Potter stories next.

This done, though, I hope he comes back to Sherlock Holmes and delights me once more with some of these fantastic mysteries.

Next Time

Moving once more away from fiction, I will be moving on to the boo Forever Young. The story of Adrian Doherty.

Don’t know who that is?

I don’t expect you to.

Come back next time to find out.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: The City TrilogyMan vs Bookshelf: Forever Young >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

Posted by Mark Ayre

International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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