Pound for pound, I'm not sure who would win a copycat cage match: Jane Austen or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they are without question the most beloved writers ever to have had their copyrights lapse.
The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz isn't just another pastiche. It's the first sequel given the official stamp of approval by Conan Doyle's estate. And while “authorized” sequels often cause me to break out in hives (I still have painful “Scarlett” flashbacks), Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider series, also co-created the outstanding BBC series“Foyle's War,” and has already proven he knows his way around a historical mystery.
Faithful Watson is writing his narrative at the end of a very long life, but the tale he relates is “simply too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print,” and has been locked in a bank vault for 100 years until a more cynical society appears who can handle its nightmarish details. (Um, thanks for that.)
“The House of Silk” starts off as The Case of the Endangered Art Dealer. It's November of 1890, the weather is foul, Holmes is bored, and a terrified client shows up seeking help and dripping clues. Edmund Carstairs is convinced an Irish thug has tracked him from America to London to wreak revenge for the death of his twin.
“The trouble with you, Holmes, is that you have a way of complicating things,” Inspector Lestrade grouses at a crime scene early on. “It's as if you need the crime to rise to the challenge, as if it has to be unusual enough for it to be worth solving.”
In addition to Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Professor Moriarty, and brother Mycroft all appear, as do Wiggins and the rest of the Baker Street Irregulars, street urchins who spy for Holmes. But then one of the Irregulars is horribly murdered, and the plot takes a decidedly darker turn. “House of Silk” has echoes of Louis Bayard's “Mr. Timothy,” another update of an iconic Victorian character.
Horowitz does an admirable job of both meeting readers' expectations and subverting them. While Horowitz doesn't quite have Conan Doyle's touch, he has clearly studied his methods and knows how to use them – sending Conan Doyle's most famous creation to places far more treacherous than Reichenbach Falls.