Elementary end

When Anthony Horowitz gave us The House of Silk, the latest addition to Sherlock Holmes’s adventures, it was bang in the middle of what appeared to be the Sherlock season.

At first, there was Guy Ritchie’s second installment to the Sherlock Holmes movie franchise, A Game of Shadows, which portrays Sherlock to be more action-oriented than usual. And of course, there is the critically acclaimed BBC Sherlock series that records the adventures of Sherlock and Watson in present day London. Not to mention the numerous publications that proffer various other adventures of the great detective and his sidekick.

But where Anthony Horowitz’s contribution to the world of Sherlock Holmes differs is that his novel is the only one to have been officially approved by the Conan Doyle Estate. And so, for one last time, as this is very definitively shaped out to be his last recorded adventure, we approach 221B Baker Street and climb up the 17 steps into Sherlock’s quarters, in anticipation that he would be waiting to tell us that “the game’s afoot” once more.

The story begins by answering a question that we often address towards popular characters, fictional or otherwise: Where are they now? Holmes has been dead for a year, and elderly Watson with “two marriages, three children, seven grandchildren, a successful career in medicine and the Order of Merit”, sets out to record one last adventure, which until then, was thought to be too scandalous for publication.

Even as he recounts the intertwining episodes of The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk, he proposes to have the manuscript locked away in a vault in London, with added instructions that it is only to be released after 100 years. “Perhaps,” he believes, “future readers will be more inured to scandal and corruption.” And now, 125 years later, we have with us “one last portrait of Sherlock Holmes.”

This story begins with an art dealer, Edmund Carstairs, approaching Holmes about a stranger in a flat cap who had been  following Carstairs around. Carstairs’s involvement with a notorious Boston-based Irish gang (who stole his precious works of art) leads Holmes on a trail that stinks of something far worse than mere theft.

With any adaptation, be it a literary addition or a cinematic depiction, the question regarding its authenticity naturally arises, especially if such an interpretation has been offered by someone other than the original author himself. The House of Silk is no exception. Even if Horowitz had consciously attempted to make this story appear, in narration, style or content, as if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had himself penned it, Horowitz’s presence does manage to creep in. Speaking as Watson, Horowitz is quick to excuse himself from any changes in style or content and follows this up with apologetic retractions from earlier character descriptions, particularly that of Lestrade.

If you’re like me, and enjoy finding such variations in style, differences that keep the essence and don’t disturb the form in its entirety, then you might, for instance, revel in the way Horowitz has humanised Holmes, even if it’s just a little bit. Holmes has been mostly described in previous works by Doyle to be a rather dispassionate fellow, never one to mingle readily with others, and content with “working out with his own little methods of thought”, as he once revealed in The Adventure of The Gloria Scott.

In this story, however, there are moments wherein Sherlock reveals his softer side. When a rather unfortunate incident befalls one of his Baker Street irregulars, Sherlock is seen to be evaluating if the consequences that his investigative actions have are really worth the while: “It never occurred to me that this horror might be the result of my actions…You saw what happened. How am I to live with that?”

If you, dear reader, would prefer such stories to stick to their original format, or are the sort who looks out for aspects or features that remind you of the earlier Conan Doyle masterpieces, then you too will not be disappointed. The House of Silk has all the usual suspects.

Mrs Hudson welcomes our protagonists, serving them a plate of “scones with violet honey and cream, along with pound cake and tea”, almost making you wish that you had her for a landlady as well. Imagine the stories she could have regaled you with! Wiggins and the Baker Street irregulars also make an appearance, assisting Holmes in solving this most devious of crimes. Inspector Lestrade, rat-faced and all, is ever present as the supposed official face of the investigation. Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, also makes a couple of visits to caution Sherlock against his investigation. We even stop by at The Diogenes, a small club on Pall Mall, Mycroft’s favourite haunt.

And as if to show you how truly evil the extent of this mystery is, Moriarty is also brought in. Is he the criminal mastermind behind this story? Alas! As much as my fingers itch to reveal the plot, I’m afraid I’d spoil your fun, should you prefer to find out for yourself.

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